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Two simple leadership rules to live by

May 7, 2013

By Roger Young

How much time do you spend answering questions? Or dealing with emergencies? Or reacting to situations that require your attention?

Of course, most leaders will respond to a request for help handling an urgent manner, or even a not-so-urgent matter. Now, let’s multiply this by however many direct reports you have. If each of them come to you every time they have a problem that needs to be resolved, it’s easy to see where your time goes. And, by answering their questions or solving the challenge, you’re directing their next action….to come to you with every problem they have.

But, as I experienced while working with a senior executive team at a large financial institution, this is hardly the most effective way to lead. Specifically, one of the organization’s large functional areas really stood out. They had a higher level of energy. There was more laughing. The leader seemed more relaxed and so did the rest of the group.

As I continued my work with this organization, I also noticed that the standout group experienced fewer fire drills, fewer emergencies, fewer excuses, and less finger-pointing. Naturally, I felt compelled to find out why. The leader of the group told me it was simple. He has two rules everyone is expected to follow and uphold.

The first is his 1-3-1 rule: For every one (1) challenge encountered, people are not allowed to go to their manager without three (3) possible solutions to that challenge, and one (1) that they would recommend.

The second rule he explained was also simple: If someone has a beef with another person, they’re not allowed to complain to anyone else about this person, unless this person is in the room.

Consider the implications of these two simple rules:

  • People are required to think (which, in most cases, is what we pay them to do)
  • This thinking is likely to lead to new and more innovative ways to solve problems
  • When people come up with the solution, they’re more committed to it
  • When people are focused on solutions, they’re less focused on challenges

And, best of all, when your direct reports follow these simple rules, you’ll spend more time leading and less time reacting.

What rules do you lead by?

More about Roger:

Roger Young is a leadership and organizational development consultant, master facilitator, and executive coach for more than 15 years. During this time, he partnered with several Fortune 500 organizations on a variety of talent management and organizational issues.

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