Remarkable Leadership: The Kevin Eikenberry Interview Part 2Our interview with Kevin Eikenberry author of the book Remarkable Leadership continues. The final part will be posted on Friday.
LeadingBlog: In your book, Remarkable Leadership, you divide teams into two types — basketball teams and track and field teams. Could you explain that?
Kevin Eikenberry: You obviously read the book.
LB: I did.
KE: I love that. To me what we've got is everyone thinking that everyone should be like a basketball team or a hockey team or a soccer team, which is a highly interdependent team. If you've got a basketball team, you've got five players who at any given time might have to play a different role; they all have to have some very similar skills to do various things within the team. And when any one of those five players, like in the case of basketball, is not being successful, it has a significant impact on the rest of the team. That in Western culture is what we think of a team in the workplace. An interdependent team. But in many cases, the kinds of teams at work aren't that way. They're more like a track and field team. So if you and I are on a track and field team together and you're a hurdler and I'm a pole-vaulter, how well you hurdle today does not impact how well I pole-vault or vice versa. But both of us want the other to do well and when we both do well the team wins. And we advance to the next meet, right? But as independent participants in this team, my work product doesn't require your input at the kind of level it does if you're passing the ball to me to take a shot or if I'm passing the ball to you after I make a rebound. So it’s a very different sort of an interaction. And I think the challenge that we get into in many cases Michael, is that we think as leaders and as team members that every team ought to be like that basketball team. And it gets us into all kinds of trouble because we try to interact in ways that we don't even need to, to get the work done.
LB: So what we're trying to do really, is force track and field participants or teams into basketball teams?
KE: I think that happens far too often. I've been on teams like that and I have been in situations like that and I have seen it many times. I've tried to help individual teams and organizations think about it. Most organizations have both kinds of teams and the problem is that leaders try to treat both the same because they've never thought about the differences.
LB: You wrote in your book that “remarkable leaders don't delegate, they share responsibility.” What do you mean by that?
KE: Well, you know I asked a lot of people about the “delegate” word. The interesting thing that I got was, there’s not a lot of positive feelings around the word delegate. I think that maybe it’s a bit of a play on words but I think that when leaders are thinking about delegating at least in my experience—anytime I think about any book I've read about being a more effective leader or manager and it talks about delegation, it’s talking about handing things off so you can do something else—and when you think about delegating from the perspective of handing things off to others so I can do something else, you're not doing it in support of the other person. You're just doing it in a somewhat selfish way to give me time to do something different , however valuable that might be.
I think that the difference is in the focus. The focus of thinking is about sharing responsibility—it's not “I'm sharing this with you, yet I'm going to be free to do something else” but “I'm sharing this with you to help you grow, to help you to get to the point where you can do my job, or that we collectively can be more productive or whatever that looks like.” But really I think its as much about what’s the underlying reason for the activity. Remarkable leaders think about it from the perspective of how’s that going to impact positively the other person and the organization. I know that if I'm thinking about it that way Michael, I'm going to do a better job of handing-off that task—whatever we're going to use to call it. If my intent is about helping the other person be more successful, building their skills, increasing their accountability, whatever that looks like, if my intent is to help them, then I'm going to be much more successful at doing it whatever I call it. So the difference is not so much about the semantics, but the intent. I'm using different words to try to help describe that intent. I may have just done a better job of describing it here than I did in the book. I don't know.
LB: That caught my eye in the book, because everything you read says delegate.
KE: Everybody that I talked to—and that’s one of the chapters that as I was writing that I spent a lot of time calling people, calling colleagues, calling friends, (and the next book I'd be calling you—you're one of those people that I'd ask) everyone had this whole thing about delegating—both as being delegated to and delegating—not a positive thing. I'm thinking, you know, wait a minute, these are opportunities for learning and development and growth, why is it that they don't feel that way. And I tried to back into this whole idea of intent and I think that’s where the difference is.
LB: Well, that makes good sense. I was wonder about delegating those tasks where we know we are weak … if you're doing it in the sense of a shared responsibility then that would make sense wouldn't it?
KE: That’s exactly right. And I think remarkable leaders do recognize their strengths verses the strengths of the other people on their team. And hopefully we are self aware enough to know what it is that we want to be sharing based on what our strengths are.
And we're aware enough of the strengths of our team members to be sharing things with them that matches their styles or strengths better. I think as remarkable leaders we recognize that we're better off when we put the right work in the hands of the people that have the strengths to handle it. It doesn't necessarily mean the experience or knowledge as much as the strengths. I think that remarkable leaders figure that out well enough and try to share the work in a way that makes the most sense.
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