There are so many theories of leadership out there, but which are most important? As a leader, there is one thing I can most effectively do for my team every day that they always appreciate. It is removing obstacles.
It really doesn’t matter if you are leading an army or leading an ice cream shop, you need to spend your time removing obstacles for your team. You are the leader. If you don’t remove obstacles that prevent your team from doing their job, who will?
There is a scene in the movie ‘Patton’ that made such an impression on me when I saw it for the first time.
The Army is literally stuck in the mud at an intersection in France. The confusion that ensues is as deep as the mud. The vehicles were going nowhere and the three-star general jumped from his jeep and began to direct traffic.
General Patton directly removed the obstacle as the leader. His army needed to move, so he saw to it.
A leader showed my the importance of removing obstacles early in my career at my first newspaper, The Record in Hackensack, NJ.
Mac Borg was (and still is) a classic piece of work. He was as colorful a leader in real life as George C. Scott’s portrayal of General Patton.
As Mac walked through our department one day, he noticed that one of our clerks, Edna, was squinting to look at her work. He stopped and asked her why she was squinting and Edna stated the lighting made it hard to see her paperwork. That afternoon building workers arrived and replaced the lighting..
The next day, Mac came back to check up on Edna. Mac was the most successful person I had ever met at that stage of my live. I now understood why. He removed obstacles. He also created a legend around our company that day.
Chances are you cannot perform the tasks that a large portion of your team performs on their job each day. Instead, you can spend your time understanding what prevents them from achieving their optimal performance. Sometimes you get lucky and it is as easy as replacing some lighting. There are other obstacles that involve tradition, interdepartmental squabbles or even expensive equipment that get in the way.
A leader needs to weigh the RIO (return on investment) on removing obstacles. Years of experience have shown me that most obstacles involve less money and more asking why or why not things are done a certain way. Removing obstacles often times just requires the leader to take a few steps back and examine what it will take to remove the obstacles. Then the leader needs to do these things.
Beware. As the leader, you may be the very person that put the obstacles in the way of your team. Be prepared to hear about the obstacles you have created and be ready to remove the ones that make no sense.
Your team will become motivated when you seek out and destroy obstacles. They will see you as engaged in their work and will enjoy watching you topple ridiculous obstacles.
Removing obstacles can and will become a key activity in your role as the leader. Not only will your team be appreciative, they will also be more productive.
What obstacles have been removed by your leaders over the years? How did it feel when you saw the leader take an active role in removing obstacles?