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Empower your team so you can really take a break

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 Jul 2023

As holiday season approaches, managers everywhere will be worrying what will happen without them at the helm. We look at how to learn to trust your team and let them do the hard work while you sit back and relax.

As the summer gets into full swing, it is crucial that managers feel they can properly step back from work and relax, without the fear of what will be in store on their return. For accountancy and finance professionals, it is a chance to take a break from the heavy workloads and stress characteristic of a high-pressure industry and recharge, ready for the rest of the year. 

But for those professionals in a managerial position, it is difficult to truly ‘let go’ and leave your team to run the ship while you relax. You may have fallen into the traditional ‘command-and-control’ habit of directing, solving, fixing and firefighting when your team comes to you with problems. Being trained as a specialist means it is core to the identity of finance professionals to give advice and have all the answers. But in doing so, you risk creating a culture of micromanagement, with your team relying on your input and approval, running every issue past you before taking action. 

On top of that, there’s the urge for completion in the accountancy and finance world, a drive to finish things off rather than leave things hanging, proliferating the habitual attitude of ‘I can do it best myself’. This is not only an unsustainable habit alongside your other managerial responsibilities, it also leads to a lack of confidence in your team to handle the day-to-day issues while you’re away. Further, it robs them of a learning opportunity to think through the problem themselves and provide a solution independently – an invaluable skill for their own career progression. 

The best way for you to be able to let go of the reins and recharge this summer is to adapt your approach from command-and-control to enquiry-led (ELA®), which will build the internal resilience of your team and nurture their confidence and trust to become solution-driven, independent problem solvers. Here’s how you can achieve this: 

  • Learn to STOP and bite your lip 

When your team comes to you with a problem that they’re facing, you must resist the urge to fix and provide solutions for them based on your own experience. Learning how to STOP and bite your lip is the critical first step. Without it, nothing changes; your habits will continue to drive you. Learning to STOP is about first recognising the situations with your team where you have a habitual (or unhelpful) response, and then learning how you can interrupt that response before it happens and replace it with a new and conscious response. 

  • Start asking more powerful questions

Developing the ability to ask insightful questions designed to stimulate each employees’ own thinking will help them to work through issues and find solutions themselves. As a manager, you are still responsible for the outcome, but by growing your team’s confidence to become independent problem-solvers rather than just ‘telling’ them what to do, you are creating a shared ownership of that outcome. This provides the opportunity for continual personal and professional development that benefits the employee, in turn making them more efficient in the face of change and more driven in their role, even while you’re away. Using this ELA® is a powerful way of stimulating deeper reflection, tapping into better quality thinking that generates valuable ideas and innovations that each employee can bring to the team. 

  • Get better at giving appreciative feedback 

Focus on catching people doing things well. Giving feedback is often associated with challenging conversations as we try to share something that we want people to improve upon. Most of us can recall at some point in our careers having been on the receiving end of feedback that perhaps wasn’t handled particularly well. Consequently, it’s the one form of conversation that most leaders dread and, let’s all be honest, typically try to avoid. Looking for those opportunities to give appreciative feedback, however, flips the whole approach on its head. 

Instead of looking out only for what we want others to fix about their behaviour, deliberately looking for where someone has utilised a particular behaviour or strength that we’d like to see more of can offer a perfect opportunity for us to draw their attention to what went well in a particular situation. Giving appreciative feedback, in flow, reinforces positive behaviour. Pointing out the behaviours that people are using that are making the difference to the outcomes being achieved, and even celebrating those, is a great way to build or strengthen new habits in others and see faster improvements. And it requires a lot less energy than trying to fix people’s perceived weaknesses.

Following these steps will ultimately create a more sustainable and resilient working environment for you and your team. It will allow you to break free from the mindset of needing to give and have all the answers yourself. In the long term, learning to STOP, ask more powerful questions and give appreciative feedback is a much more sustainable way of leading and providing on-the-job training to your teams. It will cultivate initiative and innovative mindsets in your employees, whereby they start coming to you confidently with solutions instead of problems. You’ll be able to set off for summer with the peace of mind that your team will flourish while you’re away. Not only that, but you’ll get valuable time back when you return, spending less time firefighting and more time focusing on the higher-value aspects of your role – extending that holiday feeling.

Laura Ashley-Timms is an executive coach, co-founder of performance improvement consultancy Notion, co-creator of the award-winning STAR® Manager programme, and co-author of The Answer is a Question.

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