This weekend is the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. Thousands will be watching in the stadium and millions will watch worldwide. Like any event of this type, there is a team behind the scenes, setting the stage for the great performances on the court. Temporary facilities are built, operations plans laid down, credentials and security operations put in place, and a temporary workforce brought up to speed at a breakneck speed.

Lead, follow, and get out of the way is how I describe the management style used by Marc Klein, Event Manager and Associate Principal at Populous, the company tasked with the event planning and design for the Final Four.


Highlight the goal and make sure it matches the customer’s needs. Provide the resources to get the work done.


Follow as in pay attention and coach. This is where work design and technology support come into play. Klein’s team uses cloud-based shared documents to keep their work aligned. He gave me the example of how they use Smartsheet to get the most out of their numerous trips to an event site.

“Everybody has access,” and it’s simple. Team members developed their own tools in the shared spreadsheets, expanding and enhancing their workflow. The transparency helps the team coordinate their limited time on the ground, and Klein can keep a handle on what’s going on without being in the way -- the final dimension of this leadership model.

Get Out of the Way

“On the day of the event, they’re going to be the ones on the field.” You can’t be an expert in everything, so hire people smarter than yourself and step out of the way. Klein highlights the ownership people gain when they are given the freedom to follow their own path.

I expect you’re nodding your head at this. Management classes have taught this approach for decades. In 1973, we used Vroom & Yetton’s model on when to take a decision on your own and the conditions when you should involve your subordinates. In 1997 we upgraded to Tom Malone’s version, acknowledging the role that information technology plays in making more and better information available throughout of the organization.

And yet, many managers don’t practice this approach. They have a decision making meeting but lead with the answer they want to hear. They ask for revisions to work until they might as well have written it themselves.

I asked Klein if he had a thought as to why some can’t seem to get out of the way.

Some people just feel the need to have their own touch on everything. Not sure if it’s ego our just being able to say they had input…. All it does is undermine the confidence of the people who do the work. Even if something doesn’t look the way I envisioned, if it meets the customer needs, step out of the way. It takes an ‘ego check,’ but the team gets the glory.

A Modernization of a Leadership Standard

Perhaps the transparency made possible by tools like Smartsheet,, and other collaborative work systems will give more leaders the confidence to follow rather than meddle, loosen their grip, lead with a lighter touch -- however they might think about getting out of the way of work to be done. Leaders have critical roles to play as visionaries, resource providers, and coaches. Leaders can also look to enhanced roles as work architects as we begin to have work done as a blend of traditional employees, contract workers, “task rabbits” and the crowd.

Photo courtesy of Rich Smith.

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