When Your People Go their Own Way

There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.

– Attributed to Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin

"Make way for Ducklings" statue showing ducks in a rowYou’re a good leader. You can explain how to get things done. You can persuade when necessary. Above all, you excel at leading by example.

So everyone on the team is in lock-step, working in perfect harmony and at maximum efficiency, doing things exactly as you envision them being done. Right?

Wrong. It doesn’t always go that way. If you’re like me, it hardly ever goes that way.

People have the darnedest habit of doing things their way instead of your way. It’s not because they can’t take direction or because they won’t take direction. It’s because they’re people.

So what does it mean when your people go their own way?

  • Maybe you didn’t communicate the goals and objectives clearly enough. In the absence of clear direction, your team is doing the best it can to make things work. A small reminder — of what the big picture is, or of how we do things here — might be all it takes to get everyone back on the same page.
  • Maybe you need to give them space to be creative, to find their own solutions rather than insisting that they do things your way. I have confidence in the approaches and methods that I use. Yet invariably I’m surprised (and delighted) by team members who, given the freedom to try something new, find an even better way.
  • Maybe it’s time to let them go. You took someone under your wing when they were young, and you watched them grow into one of your most trusted colleagues. It might be time to push them from the nest and let them fly on their own.

Finally, remember that it doesn’t mean you’re unfit as a leader — that you need to find a more solitary profession, like fire-tower lookout. You’re dealing with people, and people are complicated.

And you’re not dealing with just any people. You’re dealing with the talented and bright people you hired to staff your project. Just the sort of people who are adept at finding new approaches and who have the confidence to pursue them.

What do you think? I hope you’ll share your experiences and insights in the comments.

Photo source: http://www.boston.com


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