Oct 27, 2021
We are super busy people, hitting our targets, ploughing through the workload, coming in early, staying late, working weekends, constantly studying and investing in ourselves and then it happens. We get promoted to be the leader, to be in charge of other people, usually our erstwhile colleagues. Our brain though is still in production mode. We not only have the results we were personally accountable for before, but now we are accountable for the entire team’s production as well. We have to make that mental leap from being in total control of what were doing, to being in zero control over what others do.
We immediately gravitate toward the mechanical pieces of the job, because they are the easy bits. Checking the numbers, the milestones, the sequencing, the reporting, the details, etc., are all doable for us. We are not yet a leader though, because we have decided to become a manager. What the organisation is in dire need of though, are leaders not managers. Managers are a dime a dozen, but leaders, good leaders are like rare metals. You have to excavate through a lot of managers, a lot of dross, before you find the valuable folk who can make a difference in the organisation. So are you dross or a rare and valuable metal? Do you want to become a valued and recognised leader?
What is the difference between a leader and a manager? A manager needs to make sure things get done on time, to the required quality, in the right order and following the allotted budget. The systems need to be perfectly sequenced and the production volumes need to be secured.
The leader needs to do all of these things plus some additional vital elements. The leader has to set the strategy for the enterprise, outline the vision, explain where we are going, create the culture and build the people. This people bit is the hard part.
There is a balance required though, between the attention given to the people element and the process elements. If the leader focuses too heavily on the processes, then the people feel they are just like robots in the systems and their human capabilities are not being developed. This is often the micro-manager, who tells everyone in great detail what they should do and how they should do it. This is McGregor’s Theory X Leader, who is always checking up, looking for faults, mistakes and errors. Workers are not being engaged in thinking about their jobs. They are not innovating, because the boss monopolises all the idea generation roles.
The opposite problem is when there are not enough controls in place. This is when we start to get safety and compliance violations, because the boss is not paying careful enough attention to what the people are doing. The boss is super busy with their own work. It is a very free environment through neglect, not intention. But it is a bit too free. People are being developed and given greater responsibility, which is good. However, the controls have been neglected. The checking up, the follow-up, the supervision is not happening sufficiently. This is not a light issue. This is an environment where the boss can go to jail, because they had accountability and didn’t control what was going on. Regulators become involved and penalties can be severe.
The task of the leader is to determine how much control is required to avoid safety and compliance violations, but at the same time allow enough freedom so that the people can develop, take accountability and grow in their work. Ask yourself, “have I got the controls about right?”.
The other tension is between leading and doing. Often we become the manager because we were the best at the required tasks. It was all about us, us, us and what we were brilliant at. When we are promoted to look after others, we make some shocking discoveries. We realise the people we are responsible for are nothing like us. They have different motivations, thinking, values and commitments to us.
The temptation is to keep doing our manager tasks and also keep doing our player tasks. We don’t delegate to our team because the trust is not there. We think, “I don’t want to be accountable for their mistakes, so I had better do it myself, that way I know it will be okay”. So we double down on our own production. That is fine, but after a couple of years the targets keep going up and we, as one individual, cannot possibly achieve them. We get fired because the team are not making their targets and we are the one person accountable for the team’s results.
Sit back and take another, cold hard look at what you are doing. How is your balance between what you need to be doing as the leader and what you should be delegating to the other members of the team? We have to always be aware our job is to work in our business and also on our business – we should never forget that.