Inbound and Outbound Management
Two Quick Thoughts
My Dad sparked my desire to fly real airplanes by introducing my brothers and me to remote control model airplanes as kids. Some of those training flights went well. Others not so much. Memories of tediously built model airplanes hurtling earthward as father and son wrestle over the controls have become dinner table lore retold at holiday gatherings. Dad says “Ok, let me help”. Son says (while running away with his back turned or so the story goes) “No, I got it, I got it, I……thwwaaackkk!”. Over time, Dad began to recognize when to step in and help and when to let us (literally) spread our wings and fly on our own.
The same dynamic can easily set up within organizations. Successful leaders must regularly assess the benefits of stepping in and helping their teams or allowing them space to create ideas and solutions on their own. I like to break this situation down into two quick thoughts which I call Outbound and Inbound Management.
Early in my management career when I had the opportunity to meet with an IT executive who excelled at leading people, I would ask for their single best nugget of wisdom for leading staff. It was after a lunch meeting that an IT executive told me his best advice was to know when to walk out of the room. Describing situations where his presence during planning or problem solving squelched creativity, he shared with me that seeing a staff member offer a suggestion and then glance down the table in his direction to gauge approval, meant that he as the leader was short circuiting the struggle that produces growth. Without disconnecting from the issue or objective, he practiced the art of leadership thru his observations to decide where his presence and input served best, and where it didn’t.
Equally important is developing a sense of awareness of areas that present limitations, even if temporary, during a phase of personal development for staff members. Struggle that produces creativity and growth is good. Struggle without a clear purpose is not. Knowing when to step in and how to do so in a positive way so that your presence and input have an impact are important skills for the manager who desires to practice the art of leadership. Just as staying in the room too long can stunt growth, not coming back to the table when you are needed based on your own assessment of the situation, can be equally damaging. Initiatives, project timelines, morale, and team cohesion can come crashing down when one or more staff members could benefit from help, but naturally and understandably, want to succeed on their own without realizing the risk posed on a larger scale.
The best managers don’t rely, or fall victim to, one single style. Different situations, and even different team members, will require different approaches. Recognizing these differences and determining your own objective indicators for when to step out, AND when to step in, can be an important step in practicing the art of leadership. Your organization will reap the benefits when you are sensitive to these indicators and apply Inbound or Outbound management approaches to the various projects you and your teams undertake.
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