I was up at a regional council assisting them in an organisational review of their Engineering and Infrastructure Division. I enjoy going back to the country to help councils continue to improve and do more with less. It is a great space to get away from the city to refresh and revitalise in many ways.
The council is doing some very positive things. It has put in place many young leaders in senior roles to really drive progress in a variety of areas that have been lacking for a long period of time. This energy, enthusiasm and passion was noticeable as part of the organisation review. I believe it will be critical to their success over the next five years if they are to implement the recommendations from our review in a sustainable manner.
What I observed when I was undertaking the site visits, interviewing staff and reviewing processes and reports as part of the review was how one of the Directors was prepared to put his young leaders in the deep end of the pool. That is, getting them to take ownership for recommendations, drive key initiatives and manage large teams. Further, he did not appear to micromanage his young leaders nor get in the road of letting them get on with the job.
To highlight a particular example of this, I was watching the regional local news being broadcast on the regional airports television screen while waiting to return home. Their was some significant criticism of the council around the recently installed roundabouts and other traffic changes that the residents appeared to be unhappy about. This had also translated in to heavy social media criticism which had got quite personal and aggressive.
The regional news crossed to the council for their position which I was expecting the CEO or director to explain the challenges and the reasoning behind the traffic strategies. Neither was present which I am not saying is negative. Rather, the young engineering manager talked the journalist through the rationale behind the changes which was then followed with the young traffic engineer working through the technical reasons behind the changes. Both conducted themselves extremely well and come across in a professional and competent manner.
When speaking to the director a couple of days later, I asked him about the reasoning behind the young leaders being in front of the cameras and taking personal responsibility for these sensitive matters. His rationale was that this was a great training ground for them to learn quickly and experience all the challenges that leadership presented. Further, he stressed that he supported them 100 per cent but was keen to ensure they owned their areas of responsibility from every aspect which included the challenge of the media.
Brave stuff. Impressive leadership given the natural reaction we can often have is to protect our team, nurse them along, take baby steps rather than jump straight in to the deep end. I have been guilty of this in the past but have really given the opposite way since I have had my own business.
Protecting your leaders is noble but it won’t extend them and challenge them to where they need to be to step up in the future. People can do far more than they think which includes young managers in leadership roles. Not only will they thank you for it long term, but if it is done in a trusting environment where mistakes made are debriefed on the premise of growth, then it will be the best way to fast track them.
Get your leaders to move from the shallow to the deep end of the pool. A similar analogy is you don’t become a better skier by skiing the same slopes. They will become stronger leaders because of it.