Former COO of AOL, preached this motto to his executive team when they were in their hay day.

You are the keepers of the “what,” not the masters of the “how.”

As a leader, you define what needs to be done and you have the opportunity to let those you lead define how it gets done. A person who defines the “what” and determines the “how” is a dictator and will stifle the creative innovation of those under him.

Most leaders have attained their position by being good with the “how.” But when you begin to lead others, the strength of the team is not in you doing it, but in releasing the abilities and strengths of those you lead to do it.

A leader who micro manages the how may get what they want in the end but they will lose the respect of those in his/her team and create an environment where they will constantly be replacing people as they won’t stay long with that leader.

The tension between managing and leading is in what you hold tight to. Do you hold tight to what gets done, or how it gets done. Every good leader guides the team to the goal, but lets the team speak into the process of how to get there.

Leaders who are “Masters of the How:”

  • Stifle the creativity of the team
  • Eliminate opportunities to innovate
  • Devalue the team’s input, and in turn devalue the team players
  • Create a “yes-man” environment that prevents growth
  • Repel leaders

Leaders who are “Keepers of the What” and not the How:

  • Release the creativity of the individuals on the team.
  • Attract leaders (problem-solvers).
  • Inspire innovation.
  • Let the team players continually speak into the process
  • Create a culture of success by sharing the wins of the organization/department.

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