Senior managers are paid, first and foremost, to get results by working through others. But often they are dragged into the operational fray by employees who are reluctant to assume decision-making responsibility. Although playing Solomon might be an ego trip, it opens up the floodgates. As more managers realize that they can pass the buck back up to the top, a culture of dependency and nonaccountability takes hold. Small wonder that little time is left for strategic thinking.
Effective leaders refuse to be drawn into the dependency trap. When Linda Woltz became president of Sara Lee Underwear, she moved to shift the culture from one that viewed the leader as the ultimate handler of disputes to one in which senior executives and those below them took on that responsibility. When a dispute is brought before her, she asks, "Who are the players who need to be brought together to resolve this issue?" She provides whatever support may be needed to get them together, leaves them alone, and expects them to inform her only of the results.
Another quality that Julia Nenke continues to admire in her old boss, John Doumani, is his ability to distinguish between those issues in which he needs to become involved and those that should be left to others to resolve. She explains:
His reaction differs from the normal reaction of most leaders who, when an issue is presented to them, immediately assume that they should take a role and have an opinion, no matter what the issue. John has the maturity and technique to stand back, even if he has a point of view or a preference for the way it should be played out. He really believes that it is more important to instill accountability in the members of his team than for him to be heard . Because he refuses to offer a solution, his team is forced to jump in and resolve issues by themselves .
Nenke herself devoted time to working with her team at Foxtel to identify, prioritize, and assign responsibility for issues. Putting each issue into the "right box," as she calls it, enabled Nenke to quickly determine which were strategic in nature"the big things" that required her involvementand which could be handled at a lower level.