Learning to let employees lead

The times they are a changin'. Life used to be simple: managers managed. They directed, controlled, commanded. But that doesn't work anymore. Today's managers must learn to become leaders.

What's the difference? Leaders ask questions — they don't just give answers. Leaders listen instead of always having something to say. And most importantly, leaders let others lead.

Letting employees lead can be awkward for employees and managers, at first. Employees are accustomed to being told what to do, and managers are used to managing.

Let's say you receive a complaint from a guest about an undercooked pizza. The old management model says the floor manager takes care of the problem and talks with the customers. The new leadership model says the line cook (who undercooked the pizza) talks to the customer. Maintaining a "line of sight" connection to your customer makes a big impact on the employee and the customer.

In his book "Flight of the Buffalo," author and business consultant James Belasco likens traditional command-control management to a herd of buffalo. A buffalo herd has one leader, and all of the buffalo follow the leader. Geese, on the other hand, work as a team, alternating flight positions to share the lead. Belasco says that the single greatest challenge to an organization in the new millennium will be learning to let employees lead.

In the service business, customers don't buy from management teams or restaurant concepts. They buy from people. It's time to let your own employees take the lead and the responsibility for converting just-plain-customers into word-of-mouth ambassadors.

Leadership begins with a commitment to a solid organizational foundation. Do your employees share the same goals you have? Do they know the rules of the game? Where is your organization in this transition from managing to leading? Here is a 10-point test to determine how close you are to letting you employees lead.

Score 1 pt. for YES answers & 0 pts. for NO answers.

  1. We have a comprehensive general employee handbook
  2. We have written job descriptions.
  3. We use personality and attitude surveys .
  4. We conduct formalized background checks before hiring new employees.
  5. We have a written vision and/or mission statement.
  6. We give written performance reviews at least once a year.
  7. We perform some form of written employee satisfaction survey .
  8. We use scripted, pre-set questions during interviews.
  9. We have a bonus/incentive/profit sharing plan .
  10. Employee-Management trust and communication levels are high.

How did you score?

5 Points or Below
You have some work to do. Pick up a copy of Flight of the Buffalo , and decide whether you'd rather have a team of buffalo, or a team of geese.

6 - 8 Points
You're on your way. Don't fall into the management style just because it's easier sometimes. Reinforce your commitment to leadership.

9 - 10 Points
You're a true leader. Maintain your focus on your employees and watch as morale improves, turnover decreases and customer satisfaction soars!

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