There’s an art to leading professionals. It’s something I’ve mastered over the years as an executive coach by helping my clients become more effective in leading their teams.
We’ve all seen leaders who do a poor job leading people. They micromanage. They don’t engage or listen to their teams. They don’t create a trusting environment. They treat adults like children. And they even treat people like “things”.
Leaders who are effective go about leading in a different way…
I first began honing my approach after interviewing Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler. Jody and Cali had been tasked with creating a differentiated approach to the idea of the workplace and called it the Results-Only Work Environment® (ROWE®). ROWE is built on a foundation of autonomy and accountability for every single person. People are focused solely on getting work done. Hours worked don’t matter. Showing up at the office doesn’t matter. Time off doesn’t matter. Everyone gets crystal clear on the results they are expected to achieve, and managers manage the work, not the people.
(I’m over-simplifying this. You can read the details of their journey and their results in their books, “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It” and “Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It”).
The results were remarkable. Teams were clear on the important results to be achieved, engagement scores skyrocketed, and wellness scores jumped. Productivity rose significantly and voluntary turnover essentially dropped to zero. (Who would leave a culture like that?)
There’s quite a bit that needs to shift in order to implement a true ROWE culture. But to me, an essential aspect of why it works comes down to how leaders lead professionals.
The key to effectively leading professionals is to treat professionals like professionals.
At the heart of this approach is the reality that the vast majority of professionals want to do a good job. They want to produce professional results.
Consequently, a leader doesn’t need to constantly monitor the work and progress of a professional. Instead, they need to ensure that the person is clear about what needs to be done, what the outcome needs to be, when the task needs to be completed, and the relative priority of the work. The leader needs to be available to answer questions and the team member needs to know to let the leader know if there is a problem or a delay. (Obviously, if something is extremely urgent or time-sensitive, there needs to be more two-way communication.)
But once all of this is established, the leader needs to leave them alone to complete their work. They can (and should) wait for and expect the results to be delivered with quality and on time.
The most effective way to lead professionals is to treat them like a professional.
Do team members ever screw up? Do they ever act unprofessionally or produce inferior work? Of course. But it should be a rare occurrence and should be dealt with in an appropriate manner.
When professionals are treated as professionals, the quality of work improves, engagement increases, and turnover drops.