Leaderly Quote: Provide people with the air cover they need…

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“Provide people with the air cover they need to do their best work.” — Jo Miller


At first, Martha’s “quiet leadership” style seemed almost too laid back. She had moved to Sydney to pick up the pieces after our previous leader derailed and was removed from her role. We were kicking butt and delivering results, but we felt overworked and neglected by leadership at our company’s headquarters in Boston. Morale was low and our team, who had previously been close, were starting to bicker with each other. We had been left to fend for ourselves and self-manage while we waited for Martha to arrive. Martha came with a reputation as of the company’s top regional leaders, and we were excited to begin working with her.

So we were surprised at Martha’s hands-off approach. She didn’t get between us and our work. She encouraged us to own our roles and get things done our own way as long as the business kept growing. When I proposed a new role for myself, to focus on an underserved part of our business, she reviewed my business plan and swiftly OK’d it.

Martha readily admitted that she was not an expert, saying “I could do any of your roles for a few weeks and look successful, but after that I’d be B.S.ing.” In our daily staff meetings, she would sit quietly and listen intently to our updates, speaking up only if we asked her to, or if a problem required it.

As time went by, we began to see that her role was to provide encouragement, make sure we had the resources we needed, quickly address any interpersonal issues within our team. She also did something we never expected but greatly appreciated, which was to push back against company headquarters when they issued directives that were a poor fit for our region.

As the business continued to grow, it outpaced the capacity of our team to keep up, and Martha decided it was time to hire. We all collaborated on the interviews and hiring decision, but the new guy quickly proved to be a poor fit for his role. He was put in charge of a key customer account that another colleague and I had cultivated, building up over the past year. But within one month of coming on board, he had upset our customer so much that she refused to work with him. No one wanted the new guy to get fired, so a colleague and I quietly took back the account, and rebuilt the customer’s trust in our agency. Without that key account and at a loose end, the new employee surfed the internet, told off-color jokes, and generally made a nuisance of himself.  Our team’s morale began to take another hit.

When Martha found out, she didn’t get angry, though she made it clear that she should have been informed. She acted quickly, compassionately and decisively to let the new employee go and reassured the rest of us that we had her full support.

Provide people with the air cover they need

As Tara Jaye Frank says, great leaders know when to step aside. And as Liz Brenner has noted, they also fight for their people. In short, that’s exactly what Martha did. She gave us the encouragement and support to do great work, and whenever we confronted an obstacle, she gave us the air cover we needed to keep moving forward.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a leading authority on women’s leadership and a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker who delivers more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo is founding editor of BeLeaderly.com and CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. Learn more about Jo’s services at www.JoMiller.net and follow @jo_miller on Twitter.

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