I do. We do. You do.
My Mom taught pre-school. It wasn’t a job; it was her calling. Kids gravitated to her like she was the Pied Piper, and she greeted them with unequaled patience, acceptance, and love. Years later, her students would talk about how she changed their lives when they were only four years old. And she did it by following one simple rule.
I do. We do. You do.
Whatever she was teaching, whether it was sitting still at a table and eating a snack or writing the alphabet, she always did it first so the kids would know that it’s possible and not be afraid to try.
Then, they would do the activity together. Side-by-side, they would eat a snack or draw letters, the kids occasionally glancing to the side to mimic her and my Mom gently coaching and encouraging.
Finally, she would step back, never disappearing completely, always within sight, but no longer right there. By doing this, she created the space for them to be independent and to build confidence.
It is easy to say that she was teaching.
It is more accurate to say that she was leading.
It is precisely what executives need to do if they want to build a culture and capability of innovation within their teams and businesses.
It is not enough to encourage your team to take risks. YOU need to take risks. Ask a question in a meeting. Say, “I don’t know.” Challenge the status quo. Be the first to do something different or uncertain, so your people know that it’s possible and aren’t afraid to try.
Don’t sit back in judgment, demanding that your teams present their work to you, and bombarding them with questions that begin with, “Did you think about…?” or demands for data that couldn’t possibly exist.
Instead, coach them and encourage them. Sit next to them as they share the work they’ve done and ask questions to learn more. Work with them as they think through options and examine alternatives.
It’s tempting to want to stay in the work and continue exploring and creating, but you eventually need to step back and let the team work. Give them the time and space to make progress without constant updates. Give them the resources to do bigger and better things. Give them more independence so they can build their confidence and a track record of success.
But don’t disappear. Be close enough that when the team needs you, you’re just a shout away. Most importantly, actively advocate for and defend the team when the cultural antibodies hell-bent on defending the status quo arrive and begin their attack.
I do We do You do is what leadership looks like.
Whether you’re learning the alphabet or innovating within a big company.