Grow as a Leader with Montessori Principles: Part 2 - Independence

Grow as a Leader with Montessori Principles: Part 2 - Independence

This is the second part of a 6-part series on using the Montessori Principles to guide you as a Leader. Today we will discuss how to balance coaching with your delivery goals effectively. If you often find yourself in a situation where you are trying to find the right balance between long term employee growth and delivery needs, keep reading.

Promote independence

As mentioned in the previous part, when reflecting on the phrase "help me to help myself":

I find the contradiction of "help me" and "to help myself" quite pertinent for the ongoing tension between the leader's need to solve a problem (help me) and the equally vital need to enable the person that is directly affected by the problem to help himself.

For parents, this tension is real every day. My daughter is almost 3, and every day I think, "if I help her with her shoes and the coat, we will be out of the house in no time", and at the same time "hold on for a bit longer. Don't take away from her the opportunity to get better at those activities. Don't take away her agency". Navigating the world as parents is far from easy, and it doesn't slow down because you have a little one, so, at times, I inevitably end up helping her.

I find the Montessori Approach very reassuring and without judgment. While we know that we need to get better as parents, we know that life is not perfect and that sometimes you need to compromise to get things moving. At the same time, sometimes a habit or a tendency toward laziness can trigger controlling behaviours, so we must continually watch ourselves and our behaviour.

In a work environment, it's similar. On the one hand, your primary goal is to improve your company's bottom line; on the other hand, you know that making your teams/teammates more independent is key for better performance. What we are often trading here is the short term delivery needs with the long term performance improvement of the team. Naturally, at times the former needs to be prioritised over the latter. Still, similarly to controlling your behaviours as a parent, as a leader, you need to watch out for behaviours that are just a function of old habits or "laziness" (simply doing what it's easier).

I'll give you an example. This week in a meeting with several stakeholders, I jumped in the conversation when I saw a struggle in coming up with a shared solution without letting my teammate handle the situation himself. I usually moderate those meetings, and I couldn't refrain myself; I took an opportunity for growth away from him. I'm well aware that the best way for my teammate to get better at handling stakeholders is to practice, especially if I'm there to listen and provide my perspective afterwards;  instinctively, my concern for a quick resolution of the problem prevailed.

In the end, we want to be mindful about first standing back to observe before diving in to offer help. There will be times when help is needed, but there will also be situations when our teammates, given a little more time or a tiny nudge in the right direction, can overcome the challenge by themselves. What this fraction of space may give them is a feeling of agency: "I can do this by myself!"

Acknowledge your mistakes

The beauty of toddlers is that they cry and kick if you don't let them be independent. Unfortunately, adults don't do that. Commonly as adults, we land in one of the following behaviour patterns (from best to worst in terms of growth):

  • We acknowledge what happened and tell the manager that we felt we were able to handle it ourselves
  • We feel frustrated that an opportunity has been taken away from us, but we keep it to ourselves
  • We don't realise that something has been taken away from us but deep inside, we feel a bit sadder

Your role as a leader is not only to be mindful about your behaviour to make sure you don't fall into old habits; but when you do, and your teammate doesn't give feedback on that, to go back to them and apologise for having taken an opportunity away from them.

Next time

In this second part, we have seen the challenges of promoting independence among your team members in our daily work and how often habits or laziness can prevent you from helping your team grow. Next time, I'll focus on motivation: a critical aspect of everyday life, and we will find out why the current gamification trend at work can be pretty ineffective.