Leaders: Hands on, or Hands off?

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As a leader, is it better to be hands on or hands off with your workgroup?

As with many leadership questions, there isn’t always a clear answer between one or the other.

One of our clients had us develop their front line leaders because their tendency was to grab a wrench and solve all the problems themselves. In fact, their role often looked more like “the chief mechanic” as opposed to being the actual team leader of the group.

Leaders like to get things done. So it’s not surprising to see many of them jumping into the trenches. But, this can actually be counter-productive behavior as a leader. Leaders who take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and jump in on a moment’s notice to solve any and all problems often don’t realize that their team would actually prefer to troubleshoot and rectify the issue on their own.

It’s hard to learn how to solve problems when your leader does it for you!

On the other hand, if you’re too hands off, never lending a hand, then your team might think you’re simply not willing to help and you’re unavailable to lean on when things get tough and extra guidance is needed.

This is why this subject is such an interesting discussion, and even a dilemma, for many leadership teams.

You need to show your team that you’re willing to get your hands dirty, and that you’re not asking them to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself, but you don’t want to do it all because you’re going to take away valuable learning from the rest of your team. And, let’s face it, you have your own leadership responsibilities and tasks to complete!

So, how do you find a happy medium?

First, you always want to be willing to lead by example. However, this doesn’t mean you need to answer every question that’s thrown your way. If a team member comes to you with an issue, put the ball back in their court and ask them what they think the best way to handle the situation would be. And, if the situation requires your presence, for example with a machine breaking down, instead of rushing to the floor to save the day, bring the team along and teach them how to troubleshoot so they can be better equipped to take the reigns in the future.

This approach allows you to be supportive, but also gives you the flexibility to pull back and let your team grow, develop, and flex their own problem-solving muscles. Share on X

What’s one thing you do to support your team without completely taking over? Let me know in the comments.