Leadership is difficult.

As a leader, when do you move from supporting and guiding to telling and doing? Is it ever OK to sit back and let your people fail to ‘teach’ them a lesson?

The story behind this is a long one. I volunteer for Young Enterprise UK as a business adviser on the charity's Company Programme. This programme aims to teach groups of 16/17 year olds entrepreneurship and business skills by providing a framework to start a business from scratch. They have to decide on roles, a company name, sell shares in their business and decide on a product or service to sell.

In the early stages of the programme, there is a small amount of administration, including registering the company name, issuing share certificates and setting up a company bank account. On this last point, the benefits of having a company bank account are that they have a simple way of recording monies in and out; they get a debit card, so they can purchase product/raw materials online and furthermore it is a requirement if they wish to set up and use the charity’s online marketplace.

With one of my groups, as the weeks have gone by, it has been clear that there is no control of the finances and in spite of many open questions from me and strongly worded suggestions that it would be a good idea to set up the account, this group has pushed back, citing that it requires ‘effort’ and that it’ll be easier to put everything through someone’s personal account. Last week, the group went around the same loop regarding who had what money and who was owed what from where and finally reached their own conclusion that they do need to set up a company bank account instead of relying on someone’s personal account and a petty cash tin.

I make three points to demonstrate how nuanced (difficult) leadership can be: -

  1. If I had stepped in too early and mandated this task, they would not have got there on their own; they would have learnt nothing and I would have lost an opportunity to build trust.

  2. If I had not shared my views on the best course of action, they would have discovered this at some point and think that I had set them up to fail. Again, a question of trust.

  3. If I had just taken over and done it for them, they would have lost all respect in me and my role as adviser and they would potentially have come to rely on me rather than each other.

What's your take? How could I have handled this differently?

If you'd like to discuss this article, drop me an email at phil@pragmatiksconsulting.co.uk, call me on +44 115 888 1200 or schedule a Zoom at https://www.pragmatiksconsulting.co.uk/book-online.