The Art of Elevation
I was recently on the phone with a client who told me the following story:
I was talking to my Head of Production and asked how “X” project was going. They said it was “fine” but they were concerned that the budget was not adequate to do anything interesting and that a client call was scheduled for the next day. I asked to see the current deck and I noticed that it wasn’t nearly as far along in the details as I would have thought. We discussed this for a while, and we landed on a number of ideas….”
I knew project X was almost mid-way through production and was a relatively small/simple project. As I listened to my client tell this story, I was anxious for it to end, as this was a perfect opportunity to teach the Art of Elevation. When the story finally ended, I asked a simple question:
Why did you think your Head of Production should work with you to develop details of a relatively easy project that was half-way through the production process?
My client went silent. They realized quickly that they had fallen into the leadership trap that I had mentioned many times before – they were getting into the weeds.
Leaders, by definition, need to lead. They can’t do the job for those they lead because then they wouldn’t be leading. And worse, the person who was working for the leader has no opportunity for growth or learning if the leader does their job for them.
The Art of Elevation enables leadership by keeping the leader focused on the big picture, which is their primary job. The art demands that a leader only give direction, tools, and a clarity of role and responsibilities and that is all (unless further support and advice is asked for). Each leader in an organization needs to embrace this art or otherwise leadership gets lost.
In the case of my client (who owns the agency), the conversation set a bad example for the Head of Production, whose job is to be a leader for their team. A general discussion suddenly turned into these two leaders talking about the details of a small job mid-way through production. The message my client was giving to the Head of Production: you need to be in the weeds. Not the example they wanted to set, and they knew it.
Also, what does this say to the team? They may have thought everything was fine. They may have already told the client that certain things were not where they should be yet, and so the call may have gone fine with the client. So, then they won’t feel trusted (or empowered) by their leadership when the head of production goes to them with detailed ideas.
Or, say they hadn’t communicated well to the client. At this stage of production (mid-way, with no key deadlines or milestones), it wouldn’t have been a disaster for the team to have a call which did not go as well as it could have with the client. They would likely have realized this on their own (or the client tells them). They would have then had to regroup and figure out how to do a much better job on the next call. Is that so terrible? We all know that the best way to learn is to make mistakes (not big ones, but little ones like this are perfect).
So, what should my client have done when their Head of Production wasn’t completely comfortable with the state of the project? They should have said:
You should talk to the team about your concerns and if their answers don’t satisfy you, you should point out why and ask them to give you an update prior to the client call. Don’t do it for them. Let me know how it goes.
In this way, my client is setting the proper example of leadership, and giving the Head of Production the direction of how they can be a leader.
That’s the Art of Elevation.
Tonic Consulting Group works with live event agencies and related companies providing the insights, expertise and direction necessary to create enduring competitive advantage. We work with leaders to build new pathways to growth, create high-performing operations and develop companies people love working for.