Signing over full ownership

In a recent Multipliers seminar, an executive team contemplated the ways that they might be shutting down the work of smart, capable people, despite their very best intentions.  I was particularly struck by Alberto’s story.

Several years ago Alberto was a senior manager in a country operation in the European commercial division of a major pharmaceutical company.   His team was involved in an important, complicated business deal and the intricacies needed to be documented.  This deal fell in Alberto’s area of responsibility, so his boss Steve charged him with constructing the important letter.

Alberto carefully drafted the letter capturing critical information and details.   He worked diligently and then presented the letter to his boss.  However, knowing how critical the deal was, his boss had also drafted a version of the letter himself.  When Steve pulled out his own letter and put it on the table next to the letter Alberto had written, Albert felt deflated.

The boss looked at the two letters, one that he had written personally and the other that he not only hadn’t written but that he hadn’t even read yet.  He took a quick glance at his letter and another glance at Alberto’s.  He reached for the letter that he had written.   He crumbled it, and threw it into the rubbish bin.  He then grabbed Alberto’s letter and signed it.  Alberto’s disappointment was replaced with the confidence that comes from knowing his capability was trusted in full.

In between the crumpled letter and our seminar that evening Alberto became the country manager and then an executive on the global commercial team.   Now with years of experience, Alberto sat with the rest of the executive team contemplating the subtle ways they might, with the very best of intentions, be accidentally diminishing the people who work for them. They considered how they might be stepping in, rescuing, “writing the letter themselves” and ultimately preventing people from assuming full ownership of their work.

Sometimes we need to let go and sign someone else’s letter.

What are you doing for other people that they can do for themselves?    Is there something you need to crumple up?

Crumple it.  Toss it.  Then sign someone else’s letter.

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