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3 steps towards a balance between freedom and leading the way

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Finding the right balance between giving enough freedom and leading the way is a challenge for many team leads.

Where on the spectrum do you find yourself? Are you inclined to give much freedom or do you tend to lead the way?

Leaders in both cases tend to struggle with the same question:

"Is what I do ideal if I want to optimize team performance and make my team members feel good?"

The key is to create a framework in which people can take decisions and action within certain boundaries. However, as with any challenge, there's not one universal way to do this. It all depends on what your team needs and why you currently tend to lean towards one end of the spectrum.

Below we describe 3 steps that will enable you to create your team's personal framework to guarantee optimal performance!

Step 1: Determine the reasons

A first step is to determine why you as a leader choose to either give lots of freedom or lead the way. This step is important since only by knowing why and by knowing what you want to get out of it, you can set up an ideal framework for your team.

You think you might be giving too much freedom? Or you think you should give more freedom? Is the reason for it:

  • out of an aversion to micro-management?

  • because you want your team to learn by doing

  • because you want them to learn from their mistakes?

We can all agree that micro-managing is one of the most contra-productive approaches to lead a team. That people learn most when they can try things out themselves. That giving the space to make mistakes is key if you want to increase people's capacity to innovate and come with new ideas.

So none of these reasons are bad in itself. However, if they cause you to give too much freedom, it might pose a problem after all. Too much freedom can result in a decrease of accountability, the inability to give feedback on someone's work, an increase in avoidable mistakes or even disconnection.

You think you might be leading your team too much? Or you think you should lead a bit more? Is the reason for it: Because you don't trust your team?

  • That you don't trust your team?

  • To limit the mistakes that are made (and the loss of time/money because of it)?

  • To increase efficiency?

  • Because you have the operational expertise?

  • Because you want to help your team as much as possible?

Just like the reasons for giving too much freedom, - besides the first one - none of these reasons are problematic in itself. Only when it results in leading TOO MUCH, you might experience negative consequences. Think about: limiting people's creativity, less drive ("I only do what I have to"), micro managing, having no time left for more strategic/future oriented tasks.

Step 2: Identify your team's needs

In order to find an optimal balance, it's crucial that you also take your team member's needs into account. What do they need to feel good and be able to give the best of themselves? Some people might need the extra guidance from their leader, whereas others completely shut down when they feel they are being controlled too much.

I can be counted in this second category, which is why I tend to give too much freedom to others in some cases. A while ago, I asked feedback to someone I was coaching and who was new in the team. He told me that he liked the fact that I put so much trust in him, but that he needed me to guide him a bit more since he lost lots of time searching for the right answers and best way to do things.

So how do you know what people need? By giving them the space to tell you what they need, as well as by asking feedback on how you lead them.

Step 3: Create the framework

Once you have a view on both the reasons behind your way of leading others and the needs of your team, you can start building the framework.

The key question here is: What boundaries and habits can you put in place to find a good balance (taking into account your reasons and your team's needs)?

As the answer to this question varies greatly from case to case, we discuss three examples below.

  1. You want others to learn from their mistakes, but it is costing the organization lots of money. Still your team likes the fact that they can try things out. > The key to a solution for this is to create habits that will enable an early detection of future mistakes and allow your team members to iterate in time.

  2. You don't trust your team and some of them are feeling micro-managed by you? > In this case, you should focus on your own mindset and find a way to increase your trust in your team.

  3. You have the operational expertise and your team likes your close guidance. > In this case, you should put boundaries, so that your team will be able to gain the needed knowledge and skills as well and that you have time left for more strategic tasks.

During our 3 month Boost-your-team program, we guide you personally in finding the right actions to create the framework in which your team can reach optimal results! Find more info on our website or book a non-committal intake call with us!


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