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  • Jay Kaufman

Give the work back

Like all of the leadership competencies we preach, giving the work back takes a lot of skill, patience and habit changing. In the universe of technical challenges, where expertise and experience counts, stepping in and stepping up to solve a team's problem or resolve differences is regarded as the "leader's" task. We reward those able to do so.

In the land of adaptive challenges, where there may be no agreement about the nature of the problem, much less any shared sense of how to address it, the work belongs to - and can only be done by - those with the problem. The work of leadership (the verb, not the noun) is to keep people in conversation, engaged and motivated until change happens.

Give the work back. Start small. When someone comes to you with a problem, don't rush to answer. Ask, "What do you think?" Their first reaction may be disappointment. Recall Marty Linsky's line "leadership entails disappointing your people at a rate they can absorb." Then engage them, join and encourage them in their work.

A favorite poem comes to mind, attributed to the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

"Come to the edge," he said.

"We can't, we are afraid," they responded.

"Come to the edge," he said.

They said, "We can't, we will fall."

"Come to the edge," he said.

They came.

He pushed them and they flew.

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