Should to Shoulder
I am most happy when I play even a small part in someone’s success.The challenge for me, as a manager, is how to go about helping someone
reach their own goals (and in some cases, figuring out what those goals
are). The vast majority of people need very little to be great. In fact,
the more effort I exert, the more likely I am to actually
slowdown their journey to greatness.
To be clear, I’m a believer that having someone who can providefocus, encouragement and course correction is critical.
But it’sless about leading and more about supporting.
Let’s say there are two people hiking down a trail. There are reallyonly two ways to do this: you can have someone leading or you can be
walking shoulder to shoulder.
When one person is following another, that person tends to be focusedonly on one thing: the leader. When walking side-by-side, both tend to
be more alert and looking down the trail and imagining where it could go
In other words: When being lead, you learn to follow. Whenwalking together, you learn to lead.
The Should to Shoulder approach has a few benefits that we canbriefly discuss:
- It gives people the confidence to make their own decisions.
- It creates an environment where diversity of thought is valued.
- It creates a space where failure is accepted and even expected.
I’ve always said that a manager’s job is to make him or herselfmostly obsolete. One way to do that is to let people have the confidence
to make decisions without fearing the
reactions of others. If aperson can focus on the consequences of the action and not other
people’s reactions to that decision, then you could say that their
Here’s a fun little exercise. Think about a few decisions you’ve madein the last year. How many of them have been untouched by the opinions
of others. If the answer is ZERO then I’m in awe of you. The truth of
the matter is that every decision is influenced by the expectations of
others. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a matter of degree.
Diversity of Thought
When a person’s decisions are overly dependent on the perceivedopinions of others, they are no longer having their own thoughts. Their
thoughts are tainted by the decisions of others. Again, this is
inevitable. After all, if you respect someone - let’s call her Jane -
then you can’t help but wonder
What Would Jane Do? I mean,that’s what mentorship is all about.
The trick is figuring out how to let yourself into the mix.You were hired for a reason and hopefully that reason wasn’t to create a
duplicate of Jane.
Freedom to Make Mistakes
It is so hard to make your own decisions if there is a perception ofnegative consequences when a bad decision is made. There are two types
of consequences - objective and subjective. The objective consequences
are the ones that are truly a direct result of the decision being made.
For example, you’re in a card alone heading to Point B and you decide to
turn left. Unfortunately, turning right would have gotten you to Point B
much more quickly. The delay in getting to your destination is an
Now let’s say you’re in a car with someone in the passenger seat.Same situation and you decide to turn right while the navigator says to
turn left. Objectively, you made the right decision. Subjectively, your
navigator - at least briefly - thinks you made a bad decision. The
subjective consequence for the driver is that the navigator will be
unhappy with your decision.
So in this example, the driver was right and the navigator (themanager) was wrong. It could have been the other way around, of course.
But, if the subjective consequences of being wrong are severe then it
doesn’t matter how confident the driver is - they will always choose
think the navigator wants.
The manager’s role in all this is to be available to supportdecision making but not be such an overwhelming leader that your
employees won’t have the skills they need to function independently.
Among other things, this gives your employees more space to make the
decision - and to be wrong. The great thing is that you, the manager,
are right there by their side and can advise and support if things go
sideways. Because, let’s face it, if the wrong decision is made - it’s
the manager who is ultimately left holding the bucket.
It’s probably this last fact that can encourage managers to take amore prominent role in decision making. But this is a truly short-term
way of thinking that really does not scale across all your reports.
Trying to influence the decisions of everyone who reports to you will do
a couple of things:
- Drive you crazy
- Drive your employees crazy
- Lead to really bad decisions.