Last night I went to an event at the Everson Museum here in the Syracuse area. It was called Unique, and it's a presentation of the words of talented disabled artists as well as a fundraiser for Arise Inc, on whose board I presently sit.

Tom McKeown

I'm not an artist in this sense. I know what I like but if someone asked me to paint something it would be a mess. Thus, seeing what these folks can do that I can't shows me and everyone else that being labeled "disabled" doesn't mean one isn't talented or smart or lacking in skills. Something for those of you who are in charge of hiring to think about.

The executive director of Arise is named Tom McKeown. We both started at Arise around the same time, and as my association will end at the end of October he'll be retiring next spring.

Tom is a great leader of people; I can easily say that. He's great at it because of a few specific things. One, he lets his directors and supervisors do their job without interference. Two, he knows what's going on every step of the way and can make legitimate suggestions when needed. Three, his employees trust him and will confide in him, even if things aren't going well. And four, he's always thinking 3 or 4 steps ahead, looking out for traps as well as opportunities for growth of the organization.

The third story I tell in my latest book Leadership Is/Isn't Easy concerns what I call a "hands off" manager. That's someone who gives you a job to do but doesn't explain how they want it done, yet expects you to present it to them the way they want to see it. In essence, they figure that since they hired you it's now your responsibility to know, by osmosis, everything associated with it.

The problems with that are multiple, but two things usually stand out pretty quickly. One, it immediately puts employees in a trap they can't escape from, even after time, because without direction one can only guess at what the leader wants, even if they're highly skilled. Two, often hands off managers do this because they don't know what they want, sometimes because they don't understand the issue enough to be able to ask for anything more specific.

If you don't know what the potential outcomes of something are, you can't be an effective leader. Now, if you put it to the person doing the work as an investigatory project, meaning you want to know what you're up against so you're gaining knowledge, that's one thing. But if you're telling someone to "fix" something without knowing what, or if, there's a problem, and the solution turns out not to be what you want, it's your fault. Don't ever blame the employee... which you're going to do anyway.

Being an empowering leader means you know what's going on, and you know you've hired the right people to do their jobs. You stay on top of their progress, have meetings, and encourage rather than delegate without knowing what you're talking about. Sure, things come up that empowering leaders might be surprised by, but that's more about life than about leadership; no one knows everything.

I can honestly say it's a pleasure actually knowing someone in a leadership position who does everything right; yes, they do exist! 🙂