4 Ways Great Leaders Help People Get Stuff Done

There’s a big difference between being in charge and being a good leader. You’ve seen the difference in others—and maybe you’ve seen it in yourself.

The bigger your dreams and goals, the more achieving them depends on you being an ever-better leader.

Here are some ways to be an effective manager who supports your team’s success (and ultimately, yours, too):

1. Use the 1/3–2/3 Rule

No one likes getting handed a project someone’s been sitting on until the last minute. The 1/3–2/3 rule states that you should give your team 2/3 of the time allotted for the project to complete it.

For example, if you have 10 working days to complete a project, you should have the rough details of the project in their hands within two working days. You can’t always do this—urgency strikes and things have to happen now—but it’s a good rule to work by.

Many leaders resist this because they want to give the full plan all at once or have all the details worked out. In reality, this is more about the leader’s lack of confidence in themselves and trust in their team.

If you have the right people on your team and you’ve done some work defining procedures and workflows, they can start the necessary preparation and planning to do the work earlier, avoiding the last minute oh craps! that lead to poor performance.

But the only way you can actually use this strategy is to…

2. Tell Them What to Do, not How to Do It

If you try to plan everything down to the minute detail, you’re wrongly allocating your time and taking time away from your team.

To be an effective leader, focus on giving your team the guidance they need, and leave it up to them to figure out how to do it. You’ve already set your vision and approved SOPs, so all they need is the critical requirements to get the job done.

An easy way to ask yourself whether you’re giving them too much information is to ask yourself if you’re telling them what to do or if you’re telling them how to do it. If you’re telling them how, either they aren’t trained for the job or you’re wasting everyone’s time.

If they don’t know how to do it, get them trained. If they already know how to do it, get out of the way and let them do it. The goal is to get your people better at doing their jobs than you are—you make the big decisions, they do what it takes to see those decisions through, including making certain types of decisions on their own.

In my experience, you help develop better, more adaptable teammates by giving them as much latitude as possible, and they often do a better job than you could have estimated if you leave them alone.

This is hard to do, however, because you have to also learn to…

3. Be Open to Their Way Being Better

You can’t do everything, and it’s not your job to. Learn to accept that people are going to do things differently than you would, and focus instead on the end result.

As long as they’re doing the job within legal, ethical, and procedural parameters, they’re getting the job done. If they go outside of those parameters, it’s your job to push them back into them.

The key thing here is for you to take note of the process. Their way may be significantly slower than your way, in which case you’ll probably want to step in and show them a more efficient technique.

Or, their way may be significantly faster than your way, in which case you’ll need to learn from them, praise them for their efforts, and make their strategy part of your organization’s standard procedures.

4. Use Their Time Wisely

People hate to have their time wasted, and as their leader, you’re responsible for ensuring that people have enough to do to justify their being away from their families and free time.

As a general rule, give them more than you think they can do—people complain more fervently about not having anything to do than having too much. There’s always stuff that isn’t being done, so don’t waste their time with made-up work, either. You can always triage tasks for them if they need it, but it’s pretty apparent when you’re just trying to find something for them just to fill time.

If you’ve set the vision for the organization and you encourage initiative, your junior leaders will start to make things happen.

You’ve probably noticed that I continually use the words “guide” and “lead” rather than stronger words like “direct.”

This is intentional: People don’t like having someone looking over their shoulders while they work and constantly telling them how to do things. It’s unproductive and generally demoralizing—they’re trained adults, and they’ll show up to do what they know how to do.

This article was originally published on Productive Flourishing. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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