It is ironic that this same term is used for both software and people. Software development results in a new program or process. People development can result in a lifetime of changed behavior and new outcomes. Avoid confusing the mechanics of the two as it can be easy to do. To develop software, you put in a specific code or prescribed structure and, like magic, the new software does what it’s supposed to and continues to do so until it reaches the command to stop processing. To develop people, you put in a specific code, but that code is different for each person. How they hear it, receive it and act upon it will be different depending on their own unique skills, talents, strengths, and areas in need of the most development. Whether or not they repeat the process, build those skill muscles and continue to improve or even produce the same results, depends on the person. This is where leadership requires your attention, lack of auto-pilot, and keen awareness of the differences in team members.
While much more than the assignment of a new item or project, delegation even seems to have been made so much easier with technology. You can forward a project assignment with clarifying documents. You can make notes about a customer so all team members have access to read before you handoff said customer. You can even block out time on another’s calendar for them to complete the task you plan to give them. What technology does not allow you to do in delegation is teach the other person how to actually DO what you’re giving them an opportunity to learn. Similar to development, delegation is hands on, not a handoff. Delegation is best utilized when it is seen as the act of giving someone else an opportunity to learn a new task or skill to which they’ve not previously been exposed or responsible for. Dumb that down and it becomes giving employees the grunt work you believe you’re above or tired of doing. That approach creates more problems that will result in you doing more development and that team member possibly becoming difficult. Delegation requires your active leadership in showing, demonstrating, and allowing for practice in the new area you’re assigning.
This last area is tricky. While you can download apps by the dozens that seem to tell you how to deal with difficult people, they miss the delicate nuance of actually applying the tactics to those difficult people differently, based on who they are and why they’re really being difficult. Leaders must be able to invoke emotional intelligence and modify their own behavior in order to effect improvement in employee relationships that have become difficult. Leaders must be able to problem solve, examine history, look at context, and assess job fit. There simply isn’t any form of current technology that allows for such a scan to be performed that makes that role any easier or any less in need of a real live human. Fail to take those steps and fail to add the human touch to any difficult situation and it is often made much worse; up to and including the consequence of losing good people who just wanted to know you care about them or their issue.
Leadership and the key characteristics of a good leader have existed long before the advent of technology. Leaders of the twenty-first century have certainly seen more change and more information flying at them than perhaps their predecessors of an earlier time period. However, what technology has done is give us the illusion of being able to become more efficient and manage our time better. At the same time, because of technology, expectations of what all we can do in a day has increased exponentially. We fit in more tasks, include the start and follow through actions of many a new project and soon find ourselves with less time to address those efforts most critical to any leadership position: the development of people, effective delegation to people, and improving relationships with seemingly difficult people. Until there is an app for that and the other nuances of working with and truly leading others, perhaps we should stick with the old school, technology-free, human element essential to the core of all good leadership.
Monica Wof ford, CSP is a leadership development specialist. Her firm, Contagious Companies, trains managers on how to become better leaders, even if they were only promoted and not prepared. To learn more or find her latest book: Contagious Leadership: 15th Anniversary Edition, go to ContagiousCompanies.com or dial 866.382.0121.
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