A Time to be Hands-On, A Time to be Hands-Off

Whether you supervise one person or lead 10,000, being deliberate and consistent about when you are hands-on versus hands-off with your team’s work is one of the most meaningful skills a leader can master.

Most executives I coach need to work on this balance. Much like being right- or left-handed, we tend to default to being more hands-on or hands-off, and either extreme can be a problem. Leaders who default to being overly involved in their people’s work may demotivate them and cause dependency, rather than autonomy. Leaders who are too hands-off can miss impending meltdowns, allow under-performance to linger, and create confusion about roles and responsibilities, organizational goals, and roadmaps to achieve them.

Knowing when to be more or less involved in your people’s work is a balancing act—one that requires dynamically responding to individuals and changing conditions in a consistent way.

Through my many years of leading and coaching other leaders, I’ve pinpointed seven guidelines you can follow to ensure that your team is operating at the highest level of autonomy:

1. Tenure and experience: What is your staff members’ professional experience and how long have they been in their current role or a related role? The less tenure and experience they have, the more you need to be involved.

2. Results: Do they have a pattern of success in executing and delivering good results on time and within budget? Is their work, and that of their team, accurate? The stronger their track record, the likelier it is you can be informed rather than involved.

3. Capability and capacity: Do they demonstrate innovation, creativity, common sense, critical thinking, and problem-solving capabilities? The weaker they are in these areas, the more involved you’ll need to be. If a problem stems from a temporary situation, like their current workload is overwhelming, then you can adjust accordingly. Otherwise, you may need to make a change.

4. Fit: Are they a good fit in their role and in your organization? When people are a good fit and they’ve met many of the other standards on this list, you can likely default to staying informed rather than being involved.

5. Jeopardy: Is there a level of crisis or peril within the organization or in an employee’s specific project or area of responsibility? The greater the jeopardy, the more you’ll need to be hands-on.

6. Savvy: Do your team members have proven ability to navigate interpersonal nuances and organizational complexities? Can they influence and garner support? How much do they inspire confidence in you and others? The less savvy they are, particularly in more complex organizations, your involvement will likely be more necessary.

7. Impact: How much would their potential failure impact the organization? If their failure would result in a material issue for your organization, then you’ll likely need to be more involved.

Develop and consistently stick to your own guidelines for when to be hands-on versus hands-off. Maintaining that balance will help your team work more independently, make you an effective leader, and allow for a more scalable and smarter organization.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Deliver a Tough Message Well

A sharp message and tone-—used sparingly, privately, and deliberately—-is a necessary and powerful leadership tool. If, as a manager or leader, you haven’t yet found a “sharp edge” that suits you, you’re probably overly nice or overly harsh. Both can cause problems for you and your team.

Early in my career, I was the recipient of some incredibly effective constructive criticism, and I’ll never forget it.

I was then a corporate executive. At one point, I was managing a multimillion-dollar project that had hit some major stumbling blocks. One evening, Chuck, who founded the company and was its CEO, happened to get on the elevator I was on. It was just the two of us. He was an icon in the industry, in part for being “nice.” After a pause, he looked me in the eye and said, “I hear your project has some issues.” He paused, and I nodded. Then he added, “We both know too many people who left this company the fast way when they over-promised and under-delivered. I’d hate to lose someone as promising as you that same way.” Pause. Wow. “Make it work, and let me know what you need.” Silence. “Thanks, Chuck.” Super long pause. Ding. Off I went.

It worked. While it was hard to hear, I took it as “fuel” to get my project back on track. The message was effective because it was sharp, authentic, and he offered not only consequences but also support. It was neither mean nor rude. It was clear.

These days I work with many executive clients who have yet to master their sharper edge. It’s actually a rampant problem. They’ve gotten feedback that either they’re “too mean” or they “need to be liked.” As their coach, I’ve discovered three tactics that help improve both styles:

1. Use toughness sparingly. In the example, Chuck wasn’t prodding or micromanaging me. He left a sharp sting, but it only needed to be delivered once. It’s 18 years later and I still remember it verbatim.

2. Deliver the tough message privately. No one else was on the elevator. It was NOT in front of my team, his team, or anyone else. It was one-on-one, which is the way I recommend my clients deliver critical or even tough messages. Praise in public; punish in private, as the saying goes.

3. Be thoughtful and deliberate—and not reactive. Critical or sharp-edged messages delivered in the heat of the moment are always a mistake. Chuck had clearly thought about his sharp edge and was good at using it. If you’re offering criticism, you owe it to the recipient to carefully consider your words.

Find your tough but fair (and non-reactive) self. Use it with authenticity; offer consequences, and support, as needed; and deliver criticism sparingly, privately, and deliberately. Once you’ve honed your sharp edge, it will help you cut to the heart of the matter with clarity and empathy.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Simple Secrets for Networking Like a Champion

Networking can be more streamlined — and far more effective — than you think

How will you find your next job or role? Your next big deal or sale?

Chances are, the opportunity you seek will find its way to you through the agency of someone you know (your network), or someone they know (your expanded network).

That simple realization should open your eyes, and shift your priorities. After all, if the opportunity is only one or two degrees removed from you, the act of finding, targeting and interacting with the key people who can and will help you achieve it should be a critical, career-defining focus.

It isn’t something to be relegated to lead lists, or the “usual suspects” (the people who always come to mind).

Generate new networking ideas with this powerful, downloadable framework

So how do you zero in on the most strategic people without “boiling the ocean”? And how do you optimize your result given limited time?

Here’s a framework I created for just that purpose. The “recipe” rests on a simple algorithm — focused on two parameters, utility and probability. It was shared with me by Frank Ball at Georgetown. The framework builds out that algorithm into practical steps, and illustrates it with real-world examples.

The best part is that you can apply this framework to any goal that depends on influencing others, or getting them on board to help you reach it.

Most executives I coach on networking think they know who the most important people are… until I ask them to do this homework. When they do, they are typically surprised at the helpful things they discover. Try it out and see how well it works for you!


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Target Work that Works for You

Here’s a graphic/tool I share with people who are starting to consider a career transition. Setting clear standards for what’s next is always helpful. While the specifics here reflect my point of view on what’s important, I invite you to make your own version and use it to help you target and assess what’s next for you.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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