The Role of the Enabler

Tonight, I came across a quote from Peter Drucker -- an author of a few of the books on the PMBA list. (What an awesome author!)

"The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say 'I'. And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say 'I'. They don't think 'I'. They think 'we'; they think 'team'. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but 'we' gets the credit.... This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done." Peter Drucker The Daily Drucker Book on Amazon

This idea has confounded me for years, but now I understand it and I want to share.

I find that the teams I have led or been on which have been most effective were the ones where someone fulfilled the role as enabler -- or the shit shoveler as I like to put it. Another metaphor would be "clearer of roadblocks". It's that guy in your weekly meetings listening for a list of issues that you can't solve and need help with. It's the guy who is out in front of the team figuring out what's coming next and clears it before you even get there. (Your manager.)

Therefore, Drucker's observation, that the most effective leaders say, "we" and not "I" is a fact -- not a state of mind. It's not zen. It's truth. The leader clears roadblocks and the team goes to work.

Without you the leader, they would have failed, but without them, you would have to do it all yourself and probably fail trying or take too long. You need your subordinates and they need you -- but you need each other for different reasons. One serves the other and it's actually the leader who serves the subordinates.

This works in partnerships too. I know of a business partnership where one guy is the technical wizard and the other is the enabler. They are prospering. I'm sure you can think of one or two of those.

It's natural that the leader/enabler gets the credit for the team's prosperity. After all, the enabler is the one out in front trying to clear the roadblocks. The leader is granted the authority to clear roadblocks. Unless that authority can be effectively delegated to someone else, the leader and the enabler are the same person. (There are also those who attempt to be an enabler without authority to do so. You know them as "the squeaky wheels" or "the muck rakers".)

Drucker also mentions trust in his quote. I find that it's important that the people you lead feel "safe" when bringing roadblocks to you.

I know of several managers who judge people negatively for bringing roadblocks to their attention.

Employees who bring up roadblocks all the time could be an indicator of a poor employee but it might also be an indication of a systemic problem that really needs your keen eye.

This tolerance for hearing roadblocks can be taken too far. I know of a manager who only wants to hear about roadblocks and doesn't care to hear at all about accomplishments.

I think some kind of balance in this diet is important.

But what I think Drucker is saying is that if you are an effective leader/enabler, then you are also building trust with your people. Your are naturally building that trust because they know that if they bring you a roadblock, you will clear it. You will not ridicule them or belittle the issue. It will be cleared. That respect, shown the employee, will be shown to you, the leader. Tit-for-Tat. Over time, with the proper diet of hearing for and praising accomplishments as well as listening for roadblocks and premtively seeking and destroying them, the leader will naturally feel that it was "we" who did it, not "I".

And that will be a fact. Not a state of mind.

This is how I presently see this idea of "we" not "I". I welcome other views and thoughts.