“Leaders know when to get their hands dirty and when to get out of the way”

We should always lead by example in our work ethic, integrity, positive energy, and being goal oriented. There is also a time and place for jumping in the middle of how business is done each day.  Do it at the wrong time and your telling others that you do not believe in them and that only you can get it right.  Do it at the right time, with the right reasons, and it strengthens/keeps the organization healthy. 

So when does it make sense for leaders to get their hands dirty?  We should not jump in just because we wake up one day and find ourselves bored. If that is the case, we should exert our energy by finding things that need to change and things that will help growth for the long-term.  Here are some situations when it makes sense to get heavily involved:

When other leadership methods do not work:  Sometimes it feels like people will never start executing.  We may have done everything right in creating the plan, such as building consensus, setting realistic targets, providing all the tools to get the job done, and celebrating the little wins along the way. Problem is that no one is hitting on all cylinders yet.  This situation is really one to be careful with and it is best to work through someone else.  If we get directly involved ourselves without other reasons, it tells the others that we cannot rely on them.  The worst part is that if we are successful, there will automatically be the feeling that there is no way they can perform up to the same level.  Effectively our individual success may lower the bar for others.  The best way to set the example is to take one of the best people and ask for their help.  Sit them down, be honest in expressing concerns, and genuine in telling them that you need to know if you can count on them to set the example for the team – it is rare to have someone tell you no.   If a peer sets the example it shows others that it can really be done and it likely sets the mark to beat rather than one that see as a ceiling.

When it becomes the number one way we can help:  At any given time an organization has problems.  One quarter it could be sales, and another it could be operations.  When it comes down to one of these areas having the potential to derail the performance of all the other areas, the issue becomes a top priority for the leadership team.  Let’s take sales for example:  Let’s say the economy is tough and will be for the next couple of years and therefore the strategy we have defined is one that focuses on existing customers and sticking to the core business.  Basically, times are tight and we need to focus on what we are good at.  If sales are stunting growth in this situation and we already have the fires stoked in regards to potential acquisitions/mergers etc, it could be the best area to focus on.  One word of caution is to never jump in if you do not have expertise in that area.  Those situations may mean that your way of jumping in is to go find the very best people to turn things around, rather than shaking things up and aggravating everyone.   However you get involved, be sure to let the team know that you are committed to helping turn things around, and then follow-up with action.  It will put pressure on them to do better, which is probably needed, but communication is very important.  If we just go out there and start doing it, the people in those roles will grow concerned rather than motivated.  Just remember to talk about it with the team beforehand.

When we need to learn:  When we bring on new products/services, or when something may be going wrong with the existing way we do things, it is a good idea for us to get directly involved and make a sale or manage a project ourselves.  It always ends up being eye-opening and provides the best feedback.  It is also a way for us to stay in touch with how customers/prospects feel about the organization and to see things first-hand that we would otherwise be unaware of. 

Regardless of when or why you jump in to the details, remember to eventually step out of the grind and let others do their job.  Stay in just long enough to make a positive change because from a long-term perspective, the team needs us to lead.  They needs us working on the next big change that will strengthen the organization and provide opportunities for everyone to grow.