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Leadership through Frameworks

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I recently had a manager come to me and ask for framework. He could tell from my puzzled look I had no idea what that meant. He explained that what he needed from me as a leader were simple frameworks in which to work. Another word we came up with was “boundaries.” Basically, he was asking me not to give him the answer to his challenges, but to give him the principles and the ground rules of our shop, then let him get to work on solving the real challenges we face. In essence, his question showed me what it means to be a good coach to my leadership team—how to not simply try to be the star player that everyone admires, which ultimately and unintentionally limits what the team can truly become.

A simple example we came up with is touch time improvement. 

What my manager did not want from me was, “Here are the three biggest levers for changing cycle time. Now go do them and report back to me once you have implemented them.” Instead, what he needed was a target, a timeframe and some basic boundaries and ground rules. 

Here’s what this might look like:

A target: “Let’s improve touch time by 30 percent.”

A timeframe: “Let’s work on touch time and get the improvement over next three months.”

Boundaries and ground rules: “What we can’t do is let our quality slip to achieve a better touch time—we can’t spend thousands of dollars on new tools, we can’t disrupt the entire shop to make large-scale changes and we can’t require our current team to work overtime.” 

With that as a framework, he was able to get to work on improving our touch time on his own. The benefit to me as a shop owner was that it unlocked his brain and put his considerable mind to work on real challenges—on places we have felt stuck for years. I have often heard it said that we should hire people smarter than ourselves. What happens oftentimes, though, is that even though shop owners do hire really smart people, once the person is there, they are simply expected to be just another body to get things done rather than a mind that can figure out better ways to get things done, perhaps faster and cheaper. 

On the other hand, we can be too loose with our delegation and just expect people to read our minds or operate with no boundaries or focus whatsoever. This is not delegation. This is abdication. A major temptation for a leader is to err on opposite sides of delegation. On the one hand, we can delegate to people by giving them the answers and asking them to robotically fulfill what we ask. There are times, by the way, when this would be totally appropriate, like when a new customer service rep starts and we say, “This is how we like the phone answered every time with these words.” But typically, we want to hire and develop people who can think for themselves and add value, not just follow formulas. 

The benefit lies somewhere in between. We want people who are able to think and act independently, so things get done the way we want when we are not hovering over them. And we also want people to stay within the boundaries of our values, culture, and budget. For this to happen, we have to set up frameworks in which they can work and then trust them to come up with solutions that we may not have ever thought of. 

At first, this can be a real shot to our ego. We begin to discover that we don’t have all the answers and we’re not the best at everything in the shop. However, the profitability and freedom that comes from having an engaged team far outweighs our ego’s needs. The other option is to become the limiting factor to our own team’s success.

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