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  • Writer's pictureSherry P. Johnson

When Leadership Is Letting Others Lead

Hand writing on a sticky placed on vertical glass surface.

I miss drawing agendas and flipcharts for strategic planning retreats. I don't know what it is, but there's something about sitting down and creating a great spreadsheet, flow chart, or checklist… or doing a graphic design in Canva… a nice set of slides... a new MURAL board online.

These things really focus my mind. I can get into this flow state where I work for hours without realizing how much time has passed. There's something about creating a process that you hope is repeatable and reusable. It's that sense that you can predict what's coming, and you can respond to all likely scenarios. I read, reread, edit and revise to the point that I feel I must have created something lasting and useful. I think, "Maybe this will help people in a concrete way or even make things easier for myself!"

Standards. Best practices. These things feel good. And sometimes they even accomplish what they intend to do.

Unfortunately, that wonderful flow state can be a mismatch for my skills, my situation, or the people I’m working with. I forget that in the flow state of creating "best practice guides," I can fail to check in with my bodily needs, my relationships, and connections that I promised that I'd make that day. Sometimes I get in the habit of doing this kind of work more than I need to, particularly if I'm feeling depressed or like I'm not impacting enough people. This kind of work often isolates me—like I’m creating something beautiful, theoretical…and ultimately, impractical.

The red flag: Instead of designing a process specifically for sharing within a specific context, I try to make it universal or industry wide. That’s just ego.

If I'm honest, this flow state is a lovely place to linger, but lots of people are better at it than I am. I call these folks Clarity-Oriented Leaders. When I watch a skilled admin, coordinator, or office manager do best-practice work in their proper context, I am quickly humbled. They do it faster, better, and always with humans in mind. They demonstrate intuitive understanding of their people and workplace, share their processes immediately, and their work gets adopted with just a little explaining. They’ve got that kind of trust; it’s grounded in their deep knowledge of place, people, and time.

Just like me, other leaders and groups get fixated on the more ordered, predictable sides of what they need.

Sometimes they need nudges toward the things that are less predictable: Those things that require gathering diverse experts… or creating little experiments to help people innovate and adapt… or multi-variable planning for worst-case scenarios. No one can draw a flow chart for these. And no one can approach these alone. (Theory of Change maps that constantly get over- and misapplied, anyone?)

How about you? Is this domain of best-practice really your home? Do you find this kind of work uplifting and sustaining for you and your teammates? Or does the shine wear off like a hangover? Does it feel like a gift, or is it something you do to stimulate your mind until other kinds of approaches are needed? Try my Leadership Orientation Quiz to discover your true leadership home..

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