Be an Effective Leader Through an Empowering “Hands Off” Approach

There are plenty of examples of leaders who draw attention to their willingness to being “hands on” in their organizations, as if the ability to do one’s employees’ jobs proves leadership prowess. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re a seasoned and effective leader, you know that working in the trenches with your employees is not where you should spend your time or energy, and—most importantly—it’s not where your team needs you.

Are you a leader “in name only” who has no time to perform actual leadership activities like coaching, training and developing your people? If so, it’s not just time to make a few changes: It’s time to change everything, including how you define leadership itself.

What Being a Leader Means

Anyone with a few years of workforce experience under their belt has worked for a boss whose “leadership” consisted of nothing more than having been officially put in charge. However, attaining positions of authority in no way makes one a leader. As we teach in The Breakthrough Coach Foundations School Leadership Course, you must understand the difference between being a staff member and being a manager and change the way you see your role.

True leadership—the kind that has the power to transform systems—isn’t about job titles or being “hands on” all the levers, dials and decision making in your organization. Effective leaders understand that the true measure of their leadership is the amount of time they are able to spend “hands-off” their organizations – superfluous to the operation – and the results the organization produces.

The Goal is to Become Superfluous to the Running of the Organization

Have you ever seen an NFL head coach put himself in the game when his team is behind on the scoreboard? Does he head to the locker room with an injured player instead of letting the medical team do its job? No, and for good reason: If a coach did anything other than coach, the team’s shared goal—winning games—would be unattainable. Instead, a smart coach surrounds himself with a team of players, each of whom has his own gifts, talents and potential, and to whom the coach has made it clear #1: the goal is to win games, and #2: the coach’s only job is to develop players who can make #1 happen.

For a school leader, the dynamics are the same: Your employees don’t need one more person in the trenches with them. Your employees need your attention, coaching, development and support so that they, themselves, can “win games.”

School Leaders Have Just One Job

In our blog post, A Shift in Perspective on the Role of the Principal, we equate the job of a school principal with that of a ship’s captain, who knows all of the mechanics of sailing, but the moment he becomes captain, “he must let go of performing these tasks and take up the business of leading and managing the crew. Essentially, the captain must stop working in the system and start working on the system.”

As Trevor Greene, a former high school principal and graduate of our Foundations School Leadership Course, said in this client testimonial video, “When I learned my job was really to develop people and emancipate them to achieve and to help them grow, it changed my entire world.”

“Hands-on” means “leadership-off”: If you’re spending your time thinking about and performing the duties of your employees, you will never be an effective leader. Transforming your organization’s results means first transforming your own perspective about the nature of the school leader’s job, and then aligning your daily activities, habits, and practices to match this new perspective.