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Delve Deeper

Tie Your Own Shoelaces!

11 October

It was a usual chaotic morning in my household trying to get everyone out of the house clean and respectable looking when my son (who was 6 at the time) threw one of his legs in my general direction demanding that I tie his shoelace, while he didn’t have to take his eyes off that morning’s cartoon. On auto-pilot and with high stress levels, I immediately bent down to serve my master and tie his shoelace.  As soon as his other shoe was about to join the freshly tied one, I took control of my senses. ‘Why don’t you tie this one?’ I said. ‘Oh Mummy, but you do it so much tighter than me and we are in a rush’ he replied with puppy dog eyes.

I had a choice to make here; I could accept my fate, tie the lace and quite possibly get out of the house on time, or I could stand my ground. I chose the latter, ‘the thing is, what you don’t want is me running onto the football pitch when you are fourteen tying your shoelaces, so we have to start now’. Disgruntled but resigned, he took his eyes off the cartoon and bent down to give it a go. It took a while, but with some instruction, he managed to achieve his task.

It suddenly occurred to me that many leaders I work with face the same problem. Sometimes, as a newly promoted manager, we are keen to be seen as supportive and useful to our teams so when people ask us for help, we like to respond by being helpful and giving them what they want.  It gives us a rosy glow and we relish being needed.

But how helpful are we really? I certainly wasn’t helping my son in the long term and my main job as a parent is to raise confident and capable adults who can problem solve, think for themselves and at the very least, tie their own shoelaces. The very first time we do something asked of us, it is appreciated, the second time it creates anticipation, the third time it is expected, the fourth time creates entitlement and finally we have someone completely dependent on us.  Teams who are dependent on you find it difficult to perform when you are absent or busy doing something else.  They wait for you to return from your holidays to make a decision.  In other words, they do not function independently which eventually leads to burn out for you.

Ken Blanchard’s ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ describes this situation perfectly; when a person approaches their manager with a problem they want them to solve, the monkey leaps off the person’s back onto the manager’s. Some of the monkeys may well belong to the manager but most do not, so learning how to meet your own priorities, give back other people’s monkeys and let them solve their own problems is priceless.

So, what can we do? Firstly, stay off the auto-pilot mode and stop and think for a second what is being asked of you.  Is this something they genuinely need you to help with? Have you helped them with it before and they are asking out of habit? What have they tried already?

Taking a coaching approach will help you to identify what level of support to provide rather than automatically responding to their ‘wants’. It will also lead to an independent, self-sufficient team of people (whether at home or at work) who know what their strengths are and can stand on their own two feet (without tripping over their shoelaces).

Delve’s leadership development and coaching supports you in how you can shift your mindset to one where you are building self-sufficient teams and giving yourself time to focus on your actual job.

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