Leaders Need to Remove Barriers, Not Create Them

Leaders Need to Remove Barriers, Not Create Them

The reality of leadership is that we work for our teams, not the other way around. As “Coach” Bill Campbell, who serves as the Chairman of our Board and a close friend often says, “your title makes you a manager, but your people will decide if you are a leader.”

It is easy to lose sight of this fact. Recently, I met with a product team that was spending more time preparing for and going to meetings than they were building a great product. We diagnosed the issues and I walked away with three key insights that leaders can do to make sure they are removing barriers, not creating them.

1) The team sets the calendar, not the boss. Often times, supervisors schedule check-in meetings to be updated in the status of a new product launch. The problem is the meeting may not align with the natural learning milestones the team is experiencing in their product development process. So the end result is that it creates extra work for our teams to get ready to update us, distracting them from focusing on the important work like building the product. The boss should be coming to a meeting at the natural check-in points or when the team calls it, not when we decide we want an update.

2) Do your homework in advance. Leaders should get up to speed on the topic areas before a meeting. Our job is to arrive grounded in the context. Do not waste your teams’ time bringing you up to speed. For example, if I am attending a meeting with a team for a product review: prior to the meeting, I should actually use the product, learn about or use the competitive alternatives, and then focus my attention in the meeting on the thing the team is wrestling with. Said another way, my job is to understand:

  • What’s the problem you’re trying to solve, and what is getting in their way?
  • Where’s the area where they have the least amount of confidence that I can help?

3) Refine the team’s priority list, don’t add to it. Often times the boss may have a number of ideas, leaving a meeting with 10 other ideas to pursue. When we aren’t around, our teams refer to this behavior as “swoop and poop.” Particularly with new product teams, our job is not to create a whole bunch of new priorities, but instead we should help the teams narrow and focus. A great product review is when we close by asking the question:

  • What is the one thing, out of everything we went through today, that you are going to walk out of here and really focus on?

As leaders our most effective position is often at the back of the line. Meeting only when it’s appropriate time in the project to meet. Getting up to speed and grounded in the context prior to the meeting, and focusing the time with the team on areas where they need the most help. Then leaving the team focused.

Commit to remove barriers, not create them. Your teams will thank you.

Contributor: Brad Smith, President & Chief Executive Officer, Intuit

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