Trust your team: four tips to stepping aside

When you maintain a leadership role, it’s tempting to take charge all the time. But you have to know when to hand off responsibility to members of your team. Leaders know when to make decisions, but they also know when to trust others to make those decisions for them.

Being a leader is an important role, and we often feel tempted to fulfill and build up those expectations. But an often unrecognized quality of leadership is knowing when to shut up and step aside. Not everything needs your stamp of approval or your opinion, so here are four tips to help you identify that moment when you’re not needed.

Your skill set isn’t involved

Good leaders realize that their knowledge and experiences are limited in few different aspects. That’s okay. You might know your organization better than anyone in the world, but some components will still require a specialized skill set that you don’t have. Trust the experts or your employees who carry the strengths that you lack. Make sure your talents are being used where they’re most needed, while you let others take care of those issues that function as roadblocks to your skill sets.

You have a full plate — delegate

Time is a luxury, so treat it like one. You don’t have to be at the forefront of every decision because there are other people in your organization who can do that for you. Recognize that and take advantage of that fact. Know what situations and components of your organization actually require your attention and know when you can afford to pass it on to a capable member of your team. They’re your team, so use them.

A new perspective doesn’t hurt

A great leader is always striving to learn new things and create new opportunities. There’s only one way to do that, and that’s by allowing yourself to take a minute to sit and listen to a few fresh voices. You won’t get the best work out of your team members if they’re waiting for you to tell them to jump, so let them know that their opinions and ideas matter. Let them work out problems on their own, and it’s likely they’ll do it better than you could have imagined.

Ego can make a team fragile

While you might be the most talented person in the world, you don’t and shouldn’t do everything. You won’t always know better, and thinking you do all the time could injure your team. Try to be humble, know your flaws and allow others to fill the gaps. Don’t let your self-importance get in the way and trust your team to do the job they were hired to do.

Encourage your employees to become leaders: How to teach initiative

Teaching your employees initiative is essentially teaching them to take risk. When you take a step forward on a creaky bridge, there’s a chance your foot might fall through — but there’s a reason the adage “no risk, no reward” caught on. Things don’t always go according to plan, but if you want your organization to grow or succeed through hardship, you don’t always have a choice but to take a chance.

If you’re the leader, you don’t want your organization filled with action averse employees who only move when you do. Empower them and ask them to bear responsibility with these four tips that doesn’t pass the torch but lights theirs.

Set Goals

Make known what you want your business or organization to achieve. Your employees won’t know how to get you there if you haven’t set clear plans and communicated that to the group. If people know where you want to go, they can help chart the course or even suggest alternatives.

Pass the Mantle

For the love of all that is good, don’t micromanage the troops. Once you’ve set goals, provide duties and allow people to take ownership of their role. Give them some space to figure out and overcome potential problems and conflicts themselves. You don’t want to hold their hand constantly or else no one is going to want to try or experiment without your permission.

Don’t Wait for Perfection

Your employees aren’t always going to take the perfect path. They might hit some with bumps in the road. That’s okay. If you set the expectation that nothing less than perfection is acceptable, you’re going to paralyze your workforce. People need to know that failure or opposition is acceptable — it should even be expected. “My way or the highway” isn’t going to work if you’re hoping for employees who can fulfill tasks themselves.

Keep Your Door Open

While you don’t need to be looking over everyone’s shoulder as they make calls or write emails, you should always keep your door open and make yourself available. Your employees are going to have questions or want your opinion. Encourage that kind of collaboration. Sometimes they won’t really need your help, but they just need affirmation. That’s okay. Sometimes you just give someone a nod of approval.

What new leaders need to do right away

It is inevitable that any organization will have a new leader, and it’s
always an adjustment. While it can be an exciting and hopeful time filled with the possibilities of a new direction, it still takes time to earn trust and loyalty from those who have been there for a long period of time.

Nevertheless, a new leader should see this as an opportunity to learn and engage their team. Below are five tips to incorporate in your leadership style to find immediate success.

Speak to everyone

While your initial instinct will be to speak to the people who hired you and your immediate subordinates, you need to expand your pool. In order for people to support your leadership, you need to show your face and prove that you care about people at all levels. When new leaders come in, some people might be skeptical. Address that skepticism head on and find its foundation. Getting to the root of these issues can immediately help you to succeed as you build your strategic vision for the organization. And who knows what you might learn at the same time. 

Identify influencers

Once you’ve spoken to everyone, find the natural leaders amongst them. This is some of your top talent, and you’ll want to bolster their success. It may take some time to identify who produces the best quality work, but once you do you’ve found the foundation of your company. Be sure to invest in these people and expand based upon their talents.

Showcase success

In that vein, it is important to also point out the people who are succeeding. This redoubles their efforts, shows that you acknowledge success, and stimulates a culture of hard work. This will also inspire camaraderie and pushes employees to collaborate and address the agenda that you’ve set for the organization in a productive way.

Be an open book

Don’t hide the challenges the company faces. If people feel closed out, they don’t feel readily engaged. While you may not be able to share everything, there are certainly important ideas and issues that you want your employees to consider. And by sharing, you’ve inspired your team because they feel like valued members of the organization.

Value accountability

If you take people’s ideas seriously, then more ideas will flourish. But make sure you take them seriously in a way that you expect results. While it’s great to have someone who can come up with a million ideas off the top of their head, telling your team that execution is key makes them feel inclined to prove their validity. It’s about finding a solution, not only identifying problems.

Learn “The Cubs Way” and Share the Win

Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy has a soft spot for the Chicago Cubs, as D6 CEO Jeff McCausland is a lifelong fan. But the Cubs are also a masterclass in leadership, especially when we consider General Manager Theo Epstein.

Epstein has broken two baseball “curses” during his 15 years as a Major League Baseball general manager. He first took on the helm of his hometown team — the Boston Red Sox  — where he brought the Curse of the Bambino to an end in 2004. In 2012, he came to the Cubs, completely rebuilt the team and won a World Series within five years.

He is a managerial legend now, but it still came as a surprise when he was named Fortune Magazine’s best leader in the world — even beating out the pope. Yet his reaction to the magazine’s honor also proves his qualities as a great leader.

The baby-faced manager, only 43, said he was taken aback by the top spot.

“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in my house,” Epstein texted ESPN writer Buster Olney. “This is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous.”

But it’s that exact dismissal that is evidence he is such a great leader. It is that rejection that proves his sense of modesty and humility — an integral characteristic of leadership. Epstein would be the first to say that he is not singularly responsible for changing the culture of an entire franchise and bringing the first baseball championship to the city of Chicago in 108 years. But it must be noted that his organizational changes brought the Cubs a victory.

“It’s baseball — a pastime involving a lot of chance,” Epstein told Olney, before bringing up a player he signed as an example. “If [utility player Ben] Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I’m on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I’m not the best leader in our organization; our players are.”

A weaker person would have immediately taken credit for others’ wins, but Epstein is unwilling to bask in that glory. Instead he readjusts it and places the honor at the feet of the members of his organization, such as the players.

A good leader knows that the successes of a “team” isn’t the result of any one person. We must recognize and acknowledge every individual’s contributions or else we create an environment that doesn’t encourage success. No organization wants to stifle good work, so understand the new “Cubs Way” and share the achievement in order to inspire accomplishment.

Should you have a mentor? Probably.

When considering a mentor, it is first important to get to the foundation of what exactly we mean by “mentoring.” Mentoring is a personal relationship in which a more experienced (usually older) mentor acts as a guide, role-model, and sponsor of a less experienced (usually younger) protégé.

Mentors provide protégés with knowledge, advice, challenge, counsel, and support in their pursuit of becoming full members of a profession as well as becoming effective leaders. This is different from “coaching” which normally refers to shorter term relationships to seek and acquire often technical skills though at times coach can well become a mentor.

I firmly believe most people particularly when embarking on a new career path can benefit markedly from having a mentor. This is particularly true from young people who (as you can see from the definition provided) are embarking on a career in a “profession.” According to sociologists the “professions” include the military, law (to include lawyers as well as law enforcement), medicine, theologians, and educators. These career paths are different from other positions in society.

First, the members of a “profession” have control over an abstract body of knowledge. They are entrusted by society to develop this body of knowledge throughout their careers when they as the professions custodians. Doctors and medical researchers are expected to continue their development as medical professionals during their career while seeking better methods to treat injury and disease.

Second, members of a profession are entrusted by society with a certain degree of autonomy over who may enter the profession as well as determining who has violated the norms of the profession and must lose their “license to practice.” Doctors, military officers, and theologians swear oaths. If they are determined to be operating outside what is acceptable they lose their license, are court-martialed, or are defrocked.

Finally, those who enter a profession are motivated to provide an essential service to society that is critical for society to operate, develop, and survive. Obviously, we all believe that the external security provided by the military is critical, medical personnel treat our ailments, theologians comfort us in our moments of need, and we need a legal system that includes law enforcement if society is to function.

Consequently, I believe that those entering a profession have a heightened need for mentors to insure they fully understand its norms, standards of practice, and are encouraged to continue their professional development.


Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.

Leadership Found and Fought at the Alamo

Some historians regard the Mexican defeat in the Texas Revolution as among the most influential developments in the emergence of the United States as a hemispheric and, eventually, a world power.

The Diamond6 Alamo Leadership Study offers thought-provoking insights from a battle and campaign that seem familiar—but are not generally well understood. On-the-ground study of this Revolution opens up discoveries that can benefit today’s leaders as they grapple with unpredictable change, inter-cultural influences, powerful personalities, a highly volatile environment, and competing stakeholder aims.

The chaotic conditions in Texas and Mexico in 1836 presented leaders on both sides with wickedly complex challenges. In San Antonio both groups operated at the far end of their range of influence. Misunderstandings of the situation and of the opposition’s aims and qualities forced Samuel Houston, Travis, and David Bowie on the Texian side and Santa Anna and his political and military aides on the other to guess and improvise almost every day.

For the Anglo-Tejano rebels, unexpected attacks on their legal rights, uncontrolled influx of American adventurers, and economic penalties imposed by Santa Anna’s government provoked an ill-organized, mutually suspicious resistance. Disagreements over the question of independence or reform and disputed leadership at state level put Travis and Bowie in a tough, risky position in San Antonio early in the year. Their Tejano partners, led by Navarro and Seguin, faced choices that were doubly hard. In both groups a mistaken conception of Santa Anna’s intention and abilities led them to dangerously false assumptions and compelled rebel leaders to make snap decisions that had decisive effects.

On the other side, Santa Anna saw the resistance in Texas as yet another instance in a long line of Yankee incursions into Mexico. Insecure in power and dealing with opposition in Mexico City and in other states, he had to force a quick decision. His response was ingenious in some respects but deeply flawed in others. The leadership environment he imposed on his army and government played a central part in the contest’s outcome and is notably useful for study today.

The perceptions of observers on all sides constrained their choices and created problems analogous to those that leaders face today. The neutral citizens of Mexico, the population and government of the United States, several European powers, and the Native American tribes of the region all figured in the choices that the opposing leaders had to make.

San Antonio became a decisive point for both sides, unwittingly for the rebels and deliberately for Santa Anna. In the Alamo Leadership Study, participants examine how the actions of Travis and Santa Anna brought on a crisis for both sides. Diamond 6’s expert historians and authorities on leadership theory assist them in developing new ideas about the case itself and about the application of leadership principles to current problems. Past participants from both the private and public sectors have enhanced their leader skills individually and as teams through this event.


Don Holder is an independent consultant on leadership, Joint Force and Army doctrine, and training.  As one of six Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) Senior Mentors, he coached commanders of Army corps, divisions and brigades in advanced training exercises.  He advises doctrine writers and force designers on future operations and lectures on theater operations at foreign and US service schools.

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well — Find the Long Snapper

I have been thinking about what do great organizations do that differentiate them from good organizations, and there are a number of things. But one that sticks out to me is that great organizations do small things very well. Let me give you an example that I observed while watching the end of the 2016 college football season.

By any measure you would have to accept that the University of Alabama football team is successful at what they do despite losing in the NCAA football championships to Clemson University earlier this year. The Crimson Tide have won 16 national championships including four in the last eight years. They have made more bowl appearances (64) than any other team in NCAA history. Alabama has won 30 conference titles and had 11 undefeated seasons. Currently, there are 24 committed recruits to the Alabama football program in 2017. Five are ranked number one in the nation at their position, including Thomas Fletcher from Washington State. Thomas graduated from the prestigious IMG Academy and is a long snapper. [1]

Now for those of you who may not be football aficionados, a long snapper is a center who only snaps the ball on punts. This means he will likely only be on the field for seven or eight plays per game. But those plays are often crucial. Place kickers have gotten better and now may attempt field goals from well over forty yards. Consequently, punts normally occur when a team remains in their own territory. A badly handled snap can result in disaster. The long snapper must snap the ball between his legs and send it approximately fifteen yards in 0.75 seconds. He must do this accurately and repeatedly during some of the most pressure packed moments of a football game. Furthermore, he knows that as soon as he snaps the ball he is going to be hit by at least one (if not more) 300 pound defensive lineman.

After years of success, clearly Alabama’s head football coach is leaving little to chance and will consistently bring in the best players he can. But many Division 1 teams still rely on a walk-on or fourth string player who is still learning to become their long snapper. But Saban wants to insure that his organization has every advantage as they confront their competition — and all leaders can take a lesson from this. This is not encouragement to micro-manage but rather the need for successful leaders to try and “see around corners,” think a little out of the box, and encourage their team members by their actions to be thorough and relentless in the pursuit of perfection in what each does for the overall success of the team. If the leader stresses the need to “find the long snapper” then the entire team will focus on what are the small things that can potentially make a difference.

If you still find this unconvincing, consider the following: Where did Nick Saban acquire his relentless focus on insuring his team did small things well?  He was mentored by a master, Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. Saban worked under Belichick from 1991 to 1994. Last year Belichick stunned many in the NFL when the Patriots selected a long snapper in the fifth round of the NFL draft. 

But if you’re still not buying this idea, I suggest you simply call the Atlanta Falcons and ask them their opinion.

-Dr. Jeff McCausland

[1] Sam Borden, “An Upside-Down Priority”, New York Times, December 26, 2016, p. D1.

Leading During a Crisis: Overcoming Obstacles and Keeping Calm

OB-DE821_billge_D_20090224183025It seems like we are surrounded by crises. Sometimes they are private troubles and other times we worry about a problem we aren’t directly connected to. In mental health terms, a crisis refers not necessarily to a traumatic situation or event, but to a person’s reaction to an event. One person might be deeply affected by an event, while another individual suffers little or no ill effects. As we consider crises it may be useful to remember that the Chinese word for crisis summarizes its components. The word crisis in Chinese is formed with the combination of two characters — danger and opportunity. A crisis presents an obstacle, trauma, or threat, but it also presents leaders an opportunity for either growth or decline.

We often think of a crisis as a sudden unexpected disaster, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or other cataclysmic event. However, crises can range substantially in type and severity. Sometimes a crisis is a predictable part of the life cycle.  Situational crises are sudden and unexpected, such as accidents and natural disasters. Existential crises are inner conflicts related to things such as life purpose, direction, and spirituality.

All leaders know that their organization will undergo crises. They must prepare plans and processes that “inoculate” as much as possible their organization from its worst effects. This includes plans for immediate crisis action, leader succession, communications, etc. Next, good leaders must realize that all members of the organization will look to them for both direction and encouragement. Finally, leaders must realize that their organization will not be the same after the crisis. They must demonstrate caring and set a new course for the future. A critical part of this is to take the time to confront a difficult question: “What can we learn from this experience no matter how difficult that will make us a better organization in future?”

Finally, it may be helpful to consider an old phrase from World War II — “Keep calm and carry on”. This was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War. It was intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. Oddly, the poster had only limited distribution with no public display, and thus was little known. The poster was rediscovered in 2000, and since then has been widely used throughout the United Kingdom. During the preparation for the Olympic Games it was reissued — “Keep calm and carry on…it’s only the Olympics!

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Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
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Day of Infamy: Leadership Lessons from the Attack on Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

-President Franklin Roosevelt in his speech to Congress.

“I am afraid we have awakened a sleeping giant.”

-Admiral Yamamoto, Commander of the Japanese attack force

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Every American, no matter their age, conjures up a mental image of the attack on Pearl Harbor when they hear the date December 7. Today, we commemorate the 75th anniversary. This attack was a turning point in the history of our nation and the world. The war that followed lasted nearly four years, and the entire nation mobilized to meet this challenge. But ultimately it was leadership at all levels, exhibited initially on this Sunday morning in Hawaii that allowed America to be successful.

The actions of leaders on both sides of this historic battle made the difference in the events on that day — for better or for worse — and arguably set the conditions that determined the course of World War II. It is no overstatement to say that Pearl Harbor on the beautiful island of Hawaii proved to be one of the most important and intense “leadership laboratories” in the history of modern warfare.

As we reflect on the courage and sacrifice of the brave servicemen on that day, what can we discern about the actions of their leaders? And what can we learn about leadership in a complex, rapidly evolving, high-pressure environment like the one we are living and working in today? While there are innumerable leadership lessons that can be drawn from this event let me use three examples.

Leaders must act in a crisis and feel empowered to act. The battle actually began at 0342 that morning. The minesweeper USS Condor detected a periscope at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The captain of the Condor sent a message to the USS Ward, a destroyer on patrol in the harbor. Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed 9 knots.

The Ward was commanded by Lieutenant William Outerbridge. He had assumed command on December 5, but still immediately ordered his ship to engage what turned out to be a Japanese mini-submarine that was attempting to enter the harbor.

All leaders will face a “crisis” at one point or another and several factors are important. First, crises demand that organizations have developed solid leadership and organizational preparation. Second, leading in a crisis takes more than just common sense. Leaders must establish a climate that allows those they lead to make decisions, fail, and grow. Third, it is critical that everyone in the organization even the newest person feels empowered to act.

Lieutenant Outerbridge’s quick actions are consistent with each of these.

Leaders must challenge assumptions particularly during changing times. The Army-Navy game in 1941 was played on November 29 in Philadelphia Municipal Stadium. Navy would defeat Army 14-6. The program for the game contained a full-page picture of a battleship and noted that it had “never been successfully attacked from the air.” The Pearl Harbor attack began at 0755 eight days later. Within 10 minutes half the battleships were badly damaged. The battleship was no longer the centerpiece of what 20th-century navies were all about.

Leaders must promote organizational resilience. The United States suffered 2,335 dead and 1,178 wounded on December 7. Over 180 aircraft were destroyed and 18 ships badly damaged or sunk. This included eight battleships, three cruisers, and four other vessels. It was perhaps the worst military defeat in American history. But all the American aircraft carriers were at sea.

America recovered quickly. Four months after the attack (18 April 1942) sixteen B25 bombers took off from the USS Hornet and conducted a bombing raid on Tokyo. On June 4, 1942 the American and Japanese fleets fought perhaps the most important battle of the war in the Pacific near Midway Island. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto sent four of his carriers to draw out the American fleet and hopefully destroy the carriers. But in the ensuing battle, the Japanese lost all four of their carriers while the US Navy lost won.

This can also be illustrated in the American industry’s reaction to Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941 the US Navy had eight aircraft carriers and 112 submarines. At the end of the war the Navy would have 140 carriers and 214 submarines.

Scientist Brian Walker and David Salt in their book, Resilience defined it as: “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.” Bad things will happen, and effective leaders must insure their organizations can “bounce back.” Every ship that was part of the Japanese task force that attacked Pearl Harbor was sunk by September 1945.

As we reflect on the sacrifices of those Americans who lost their lives on December 7, 1941 let us further consider what we can learn from this iconic event that will make each of us a better leader.

Perhaps the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell are appropriate. Leadership is the art of getting your people to accomplish more than they may think is possible.


Dr. Jeff McCausland, Founder and CEO, Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC

To Be a Better Leader, Lead Like a Guide

llag_hi-res-2A distant snow-capped mountain peak beckoning through the clouds can effectively serve as a metaphor for an organization’s vision and top-level goals.  Visualizing standing on the summit, with its promise of uncharted horizons beyond, stirs the heart and inspires people to reach as high as they can.  Inspiration alone, however, will not produce sustained or tangible change in an enterprise.  With a clear vision, a sense of purpose, a committed team, and a path to the summit identified, what happens next in both mountaineering and in organizations is largely dependent on leadership.

This explains why mountaineers and world-class guides are so often asked by company leaders to talk about how the challenges they have confronted relate to those of organizations facing their own rapidly changing business landscapes.  My new book, Lead Like a Guide:  How World-Class Mountain Guides Inspire Us to Be Better Leaders, (Praeger, 2016) includes lessons I learned from expert guides as I organized over twenty mountain climbing and trekking expeditions in countries ranging from Patagonia to Iceland to Nepal.  My research describes six key leadership strengths of guides and explains how these strengths help their clients achieve new heights – and how these same strengths can be successfully applied in business and nonprofit organizations.

THE SIX LEADERSHIP STRENGTHS OF WORLD-CLASS MOUNTAIN GUIDES

  • First, a guide rapidly establishes positive interactions with clients, which draws on emotional and social intelligence. 
  • Second, a guide accurately senses when mountain conditions call for a change in leadership style, and makes that change smoothly. 
  • Third, a guide identifies and builds on a client’s strengths, and provides a supportive space for growth and development. 
  • Fourth, a guide creates an environment of trust, imparting confidence in their own skills as a guide while also helping clients learn to trust themselves and their teammates. 
  • Fifth, a guide attends to the welfare of clients as weather or mountain conditions change, accurately assessing and managing risk in an environment of uncertainty. 
  • Finally, rather than holding a singular focus on the summit, a guide retains the ability to see the big picture throughout the journey. 

To purchase a copy of Lead Like a Guide:  How World-Class Mountain Guides Inspire Us to Be Better Leaders, click here.


Chris Maxwell is a Senior Fellow, Center for Leadership and Change Management, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Chris previously taught “Leadership and Communication in Groups” at the Wharton School and directed a wide variety of domestic and international leadership development programs in remote areas of North America, Mexico, Patagonia, Peru, Quebec, and Iceland.