I've just been appointed head of department in a sector new to me. There's an important strategy presentation in the next few weeks and I'm torn as to whether to do it myself or let my two direct reports handle it. I want to demonstrate my leadership, but it would be good experience for them and they are more knowledgeable.
Whether this is really a dilemma or not depends on your definition of leadership. If leadership for you means leading from the front by doing, then there may a rationale for making the presentation yourself. But there are plenty of other definitions, including one that says that the art of leadership is focused on achieving things through other people. And there's also research that shows that one of the key skills of good leaders is the ability to resolve dilemmas, so this issue is a perfect one for you to practise that skill.
In resolving dilemmas it's good to have a desired outcome, something you can work towards. To identify this outcome, think about what sort of leader you want to be. Try thinking back to the bosses you have had whose leadership qualities you admired, and those you despised. I'm willing to bet the ones you admired were the ones that gave you space to do your best, provided support where you needed it and gave credit for the results you created. And the ones you disliked probably did the opposite.
There's a football term 'goal hanger', which relates to the player who lets everyone else do the work and then just nudges the ball into the net from his vantage position. I once worked with someone like that and the effect of his repeatedly taking the glory for the rest of the team's work was that we got bored of boosting his ego and his salary and stopped feeling motivated to do the graft that got the results. We all lost out.
With your own template for what constitutes good leadership, you will be better placed to make decisions on what to do. Let's look at areas of expertise here. Your subordinates know a lot more about the business than you do, so you need to involve them in creating the presentation.
You, on the other hand, are probably more experienced at putting together cogent, relevant presentations that will gain the attention of senior people. Your team will be best at providing the details that back up the strategy, but you may well have more exposure to different strategic approaches.
You may also be a more confident presenter.
I suggest you make it clear to your two reports that this will be a team effort. That you want them to have a go at coming up with the strategic direction together first and share their hypotheses early, so that together you can decide on the most promising, and you can find the supporting evidence. Try to make the meeting an opportunity for building on each other's ideas. If their first efforts aren't very impressive, coach them to help them improve them. If they've done a good job, give them credit for it. Engage the others in trying to make the output even better: your strategy will only be as strong as its weakest assumption. Identify this between you and work towards strengthening it. As well as improving your strategy, this will help ensure you really understand it yourself.
In thinking about the presentation itself, decide whether there are roles for all three of you or whether it would be better for just two of you to be there. Find a role for yourself that provides a framework for the other presenters.
In your introduction you can give the big picture for the strategy without giving the game away on the content. You could say: 'This is a radical departure from what's been done before but, as you will hear, it can be fully justified from the figures'; or: 'This strategy is a continuation of the successful approach used before, with two important differences.' Whatever your words, they will serve several purposes: they show you know what the content of the presentation is and have been involved in its creation; they will help the audience grasp what it is they are going to hear; and they will act to build up anticipation for the presenter.
When the presentation is finished, ask if there are any questions and decide who is best to answer them. And afterwards, with the whole team, review what went well and acknowledge each other for it, as well as identifying what you would do differently next time.
It seems to me that if you have enabled your people to do a good job and have taken responsibility for the results, you will have been a role model for good leadership, something that will be apparent to those above you as well as those below.
Miranda Kennett is managing coach at The Coaching House (www.coachinghouse.com) and a founding partner of The Management Due Diligence Co. If you have an issue you'd like this column to cover, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.