I have worked for leaders who had the mindset that it is their job to remove every obstacle possible from the path of their employees. While that sounds like a noble practice, it actually works against success. There are four major reasons why removing obstacles is bad leadership.
#1 - It sabotages personal growth.
Without obstacles people will never learn how to solve problems on their own. Obstacles present opportunities for growth, develop flexibility, and build confidence. The old adage, "No pain, no gain" is true and it certainly applies to our work. A leader who removes obstacles ends up with a weak team.
#2 - It kills motivation and creativity.
The greatest way to develop motivation and creativity in your team is to give them a challenge. A mentor of mine taught me that when given a challenge, people will rise to the occasion. Nothing kills motivation and creativity faster than a lack of challenge. Removing obstacles will create boredom and lead your team to believe that they have nothing to offer.
#3 - It creates resentment.
Leaders who remove obstacles are motivated by the belief that they are the only ones who can do things the right way so they do it themselves. They have a hard time letting go of responsibility and trusting others to do their job. They forget that they simply can't do everything (don't forget that's why you hired your team in the first place!), and they eventually make huge mistakes only to blame everyone but themselves. This breeds resentment and anger and leads to a high turn-over rate.
#4 - It diminishes the strengths of others.
When you remove obstacles for others you send the message that you they are incapable of doing their job. It also tells them that you don't need them, or worse, don't want them. This is just plain dumb leadership. This is like a mechanic who has a shop full of the best tools yet chooses to repair an engine with his bare hands. He won't get very far. No one would think of doing such a stupid thing yet so many leaders do the same thing with their employees everyday and wonder why they fail. Leaders who remove obstacles subject themselves to their own limited resources rather than the unlimited resources of those around them.
I have worked for leaders over the years who have made these four mistakes so I can tell you from experience that these principles are true. I have also worked for leaders who instead of removing obstacles, mentored people in the process of overcoming obstacles as they did their jobs. These leaders had a low turn-over rate, enjoyed high levels of employee engagement and motivation, and produced consistent success. I can also tell you that it was a joy to serve under their leadership and they taught me invaluable lessons not only about leadership, but about life itself.
What do you think? Have you been guilty of being an obstacle remover? Have you worked for an obstacle remover yourself? I'd love to hear about your experience.
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