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Leaders: Don’t Lead Alone

By Jennifer Sigler | December 01, 2021 | 0 Comments

Marketing Leadership and ManagementMarketing Leadership and StrategyMarketing OperationsMarketing Organization and Talent

Let’s play a quick game for leaders. What’s the common finding from these Gartner research studies on leading organization design, change management, and innovation initiatives?

The chances of redesign success increase by 2.3 times when line employees are involved in redesign decisions (and by 1.6 times if they are asked to provide inputs). These findings are consistent regardless of the stated goal(s) of the redesign. [1]

Asking employees to cocreate the change strategy, own implementation planning, and talk openly (rather than just listen) about change can increase the probability of change success by as much as 24 percentage points. [2]

Organizations that involve employees in the concept or planning stages of automation initiatives are more likely to exceed business goals. Fifty-four percent of financial services firms that exceeded performance involved employees in the planning of automation projects, compared with 44% that did not exceed performance. [3]

Leader game spaceholder to make you think

Answer time: Leaders who make decisions alone are throttling their teams’ success.

Stop Throttling Your Team’s Success

What Most Leaders Do

And yet, looking back through the past 100 calls I had with clients (yes, I actually looked), I find these and similar questions again and again:

How do we get our team to prioritize digital/customers/innovation/strategy first?

How can we become more efficient/agile/responsive/faster?

How should we divide responsibilities/decision-making between these roles?

How can we get these teams to work together better?

How do we reduce burnout/turnover?

The “we” in these questions is misleading. It suggests there are a bunch of people involved in cracking this nut—but there aren’t. Leaders think it’s their responsibility to figure out org structure, operating models, process creation, RACIs, and role design all by themselves, so instead of going to their teams to answer these questions, they come to me so that they can go back to their teams with all the answers in hand.

What Leaders Should Do

David Marquet, former US submarine commander and author of the book Turn The Ship Around, tells a great story about how suddenly not having all the answers forced him to delegate authority to his crew—with incredible results.

Click here to listen to David tell his story (3:53).

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

“But,” I hear you say, “my people aren’t experts in process creation, RACIs, role design, or any of that other stuff that’s my job.” Well, none of Marquet’s sailors had been on the 12-month course either, but every single one of them knew some part of that ship better than anyone else. And together they beat out all those other lone-leader submarines.

That’s why, if you call me to crack a nut like this alone with you, my advice will always be:

Talk to your people.

They may not be experts in process creation, but they know their processes—the ones they use every day—better than me or you or anyone else. They’re not experts in drawing up RACIs, but they sure do know how maddening it is to have decision confusion and ten layers of approvals, and I bet they’ve got a mental list of a hundred ways your RACI could be better. And no, they’re not experts in role design: They’re just the ones performing the roles. Trust me, they’ve got ideas!

Leadership nut cracked

Right Team + Right Problem = Success

Right Team

At this point, most business leaders I speak with say, “Oh, but of course I’ve talked to my team!” So I dig and find out they’ve talked to their direct reports. But the problems don’t reside with their direct reports. The problems are manifesting two, three, four, or five levels down, where the work is actually executed.

You might think your managers are escalating all the information to you, but in reality, you don’t have time for all the information, so they leave a lot of stuff out. Then, on top of what they actively filter, there are a bunch of details they’ve never heard either, because their direct reports are filtering information for them too. And I guarantee there are solution ideas they’ve never heard, because if you’re in the habit of cracking nuts alone, the juniors have all understood very clearly that you are the one who comes up with all the answers, so they’re keeping their mouths shut.

In short, there’s a lot you don’t know. Which means you can’t have all the answers. That’s why you have a team.

Right Problem

So, should you take every problem to your team? No. But the deciding factor isn’t whether you think you already have (or can independently get) an answer. The deciding factor is familiarity with the problem.

Find out who deals with this problem day in and day out and ask them what they know about it and what ideas they have. Listen with humility, and if you realize that they know the problem more intimately than you do, don’t try to solve the problem for them. Let them solve it, and help them only if they ask for it.

Your rule of thumb for every problem: If the people who are directly affected by the problem have more information about the problem than you do, empower them to develop a solution.


Use this rule for awhile and you’ll find that the vast majority of work-related problems— structure, process, roles, etc.—are best solved by your team, not by you.

And certainly not by me!



[1] The Right Stakeholder Mix for Efficient Organization Redesign

[2] Open Source Change: Making Change Management Work

[3] The Value of Employee Engagement in Automation Success for Financial Services

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