“Nevermind. I’ll just do it myself.”
Ever heard those words from a boss? Ever spoken those words to someone on your team? It’s a classic leadership fail when the leader knows she can complete the task better and faster than her employee so she just steps in and takes over. In the short term it works–the project gets completed fast and it meets expectations. But the long term effects this strategy has on the team eventually undermine any short term successes.
Why is the “I’ll just do it myself” strategy a leadership fail and how can we fix it?
Destroys Employee Confidence & Team Morale
When a team member works hard on a project only to be told he did it wrong, that delivers a blow to his confidence and morale. Now, sometimes employees are going to make mistakes and sometimes they do in fact need to be asked to try that particular project again. But the trick is in how the leader handles that feedback. A good leader points out the value of the employee’s “first draft” and uses it as a teaching tool. You should show the person how this is step one of many. Remind them that no one is perfect on the first try. Show them what they did wrong, and then ask them to come up with a second draft using that feedback.
It is helpful in these situations to frame a complex project as a series of drafts. This way the team views the task as a work in progress that will take multiple steps to complete satisfactorily. It manages the team’s expectations from the outset and helps them see that the project is not a one-and-done. This mindset prevents the team from being discouraged when the leader provides critical feedback because they expected it from the jump.
Conversely, when the leader immediately steps in and takes over the project, it completely discounts the previous contribution of the employee. It sends the message that “assigning this to you was a waste of time because you are not capable of doing the work.” The employee in turn loses confidence in his ability to perform the task. Even if he is completely capable of accomplishing it, he receives the implicit message from his supervisor that he is not. Over time, this confidence killer adds up and he begins to think he is less skilled than he actually is. Before long, he loses faith in his own ability. After all, if he has been told time and again that he is not good enough then it is not long before he begins to believe it.
Stifles Creativity and Autonomy
Once the team learns that the leader has a specific way she wants things to be done, and that failing to comply with those standards will result in losing the opportunity, then each team member adapts to that new normal working style. Any attempts to deviate from the “way we have always done things” will be squeezed out of the worker’s mind. After all, why take any risks or try anything new when you know it will be met with opposition?
The employees adopt a mindset of maintaining the status quo. Do what the leader wants because her will dominates regardless. No reason to try anything new or think outside the box. Creativity and autonomous thinking are not welcome here.
Ineffective Use of the Leader’s Time
Finally, not only is this leadership fail detrimental to the team, but it also has negative consequences for the leader. As I mentioned previously, sure, there are immediate signs that an “I’ll do it myself” leadership style is useful. The project is completed quickly and done to spec. This could be particularly attractive to middle managers who are facing pressure themselves from above. Get it done quickly and move on in order to win the approval of upper management.
Long term, though, this strategy leads to failure. For one, the leader takes on too much work that should be delegated to her team members. She allows herself to be drawn into the details of projects that she should simply be managing from a high level. As a result her own work suffers. She gets caught up in the minutiae of the project and loses sight of the big picture, which is really where the leader’s attention should be focused.
Futhermore, a leader who engages in this leadership fail is setting up her team for more failure down the road. What will she do when one day she does not have time to micromanage a project and take over when her expectations are not met? She has effectively created a team of yes men who lack the autonomy and creativity to think for themselves, and who also lack the resilience required to endure through hardships, correct mistakes as they arise, and persevere with their own grit to see the project through to completion.