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It’s Their idea!

It’s Their idea!

- by Bryan Emmerson -

One of the most powerful skills to learn as a manager is to help others create ownership of ideas. This was taught to me by one of my mentors, Jerry.

Prior to becoming plant manager (my first senior management job) my role was that of extrusion supervisor. So when I became Plant Manager, my experience in the printing department (our largest department) was minimal. At that time Jerry was the VP / general manager (my boss’ boss). His background was in the printing industry, so any time that I was in his office I tried to avail myself of the opportunity and “pick his brain” on the topic.

Occasionally he would mention meetings that were coming up, some of which I would attend. I noted that he had his thoughts very well organized prior to going into the meeting in that he had identified the problem as well as the solution.  When I would attend these meetings; however, I noted a completely different tactic on his part. He would present the problem to the group but would not share what he thought to be the solution. He would ask questions (see my previous blog on this) and prompt conversation. When the conversation was moving in the direction that he thought it should go, he would encourage it by asking questions like, “What did you mean by that” or “tell me more about that”. When the conversation was straying from where he thought it should go, he would redirect by asking a different question to someone else.

The result of this was that about half the time everybody left that meeting with the same conclusion that Jerry had come to prior to the meeting. The rest of the time the solution was better than what he had come up with himself. Regardless, everybody in the group was energized and had ownership of the process.

If he had taken a more common tack and simply identified the problem and what his solution was, everyone would have left the meeting and merely complied with the boss’s request. If things had started to go sideways, they would have let it do so with the idea that “well I guess the boss was wrong”. With Jerry’s tactic, however, if things started to go sideways, they had ownership and they made it work.

Once I understood what he was doing, I asked him about it. He told me that one of his mentors had told him that former President Ronald Reagan had in his office a plaque which read “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”. He told me that he as General Manager was accountable for the results of the company, and that if he “checked his ego at the door” he could accomplish those ends more effectively.  

Jerry’s bonus was based on the bottom-line results of the company which ties into my previous blog on pride and selfishness. In this case Jerry realized that if he allowed his selfishness (superior company results and the rewards that went with it) to override his pride (wanting to be seen as the leader with all of the answers), he would be better off ... and so would everyone else.

This tactic does not come naturally to most people. Most of us have a prewired disposition to be “large and in charge”. It strokes our ego to be seen as a person with all the answers. The irony is that as a manager we will be perceived (and usually compensated) not on our own abilities but on the success of our team.

I hope this has been helpful, and remember …

Your success matters!

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