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How to remove barriers for your people, even when the barrier is you

By Janel Byrne

Often leaders feel the pressure to have all the answers. You might be thinking, “Well, yes – isn’t that what I get paid the big bucks for?” There’s often a misconception that leaders must have all the subject matter expertise when, in fact, a critical component of leading is getting barriers, including yourself, out of the way of your people so they can apply their subject matter expertise – so they can effectively do their job. While the late Steve Jobs’ leadership approach is the subject of controversy, a quote that still resonates is “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

As a leader, it’s time to pull yourself out of the direct practitioner role and look at the bigger picture. Where does your team, unit, department, organization, etc., need to go and what will it take to get there? What path needs to be paved so your team can know where they need to go and walk it alongside you (and, at points, jump ahead of you if they’ve found a better way)?

Remember the stop, start, continue tool introduced in the February editionof ICE? When it comes to truly removing barriers and empowering and equipping your people, this coaching tool can give you valuable insight as to how to do this for those you lead.

Pulled from a recent coaching conversation with someone I lead, I brought stop, start, continue to life.

Me: A critical need is to prioritize all the work we are doing as a team so we can add the most value to the organization. Let’s talk about your world and what you perceive to be your top three priorities.

My teammate shared what she perceived to be her top three priorities and I followed up.

Me: For each of these priorities what needs to start, stop and continue so the objectives for each are achieved?

As she lists items within the categories of stop, start, continue, I realized a barrier that might be getting in her way is my communication style. I may not be as clear as I think I am being. Once she finished, I proceeded to dive deeper by weaving in the following questions to learn more.

Me: With everything you just shared in mind, what am I doing or not doing that is getting in the way of achieving those objectives?

What about my approach might be a barrier?

What do you need me to start, stop, continue doing?

I’m not going to lie, hearing about my opportunities (or as some would call constructive criticisms) was difficult. I found some of the feedback to be hard to hear and was tempted to challenge it. And then I remembered that this is the only way I would know what barriers need to be removed so my teammate can be successful. As leaders, we need to create the safe space for our team to give us this feedback. At times WE are the biggest barriers for our people and that’s not what we are intending. Remember intent versus impact? It does not matter if we intend to be the best leaders, our impact on those we lead is what they walk away with and what does, or does not, equip them for success.

By asking these questions I was able to learn about some of my blind spots as a leader – which includes the need for me to be clearer about what is and is not a priority. I also demonstrated vulnerability and that I can be trusted. By managing my defense mechanism (i.e., the desire to challenge in that moment) I demonstrated that her experience of me is valid and as her leader it’s my responsibility to shift my approach so I can get out of her way.

When we finished the conversation, I thanked her for her honesty, identified what I will be shifting in my approach (and gave her permission to hold me accountable to that) and asked her how the conversation was for her overall. And, you may have guessed it, I asked her what I could start, stop, continue doing when it comes to her giving me feedback in the future. I learned that my body language, in particular my face, shifts when I’m receiving feedback about my opportunities. The impact of my face shifting is critical for me to know as her leader. She is very different than her other teammates, has different barriers that are getting in her way and needs different things from me as her leader. Leadership is not a one-size fits all approach – it’s about adapting to what is and is not working for those you lead, and removing what’s getting in their way, to truly maximize where they can go and what they can achieve.

Janel Byrne, MSW, SHRM-CP, is an organizational effectiveness manager at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.



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