Sep 6, 2023
Leaders are different from managers. Managers have to make sure everything is humming. The quality standards have to be met. The logistics have to flow smoothly, so that production is working well. The budget has to be met and there should be no over spending taking place. Leaders have to do all of this, plus two other key roles. One is setting the direction and the other is developing the people. This sounds fair enough, except that the roles described for the manager are a full time job and the leader’s bits and bobs are on top of that base. Do leaders get more than 24 hours a day allotted to them unlike managers? No, they get what we all get, yet somehow they have to accomplish all of these other tasks as well and this is where the problems start.
What normally happens is that strategy setting is a once a year affair. In large companies, there is a lot of bureaucracy attached to the planning stage and this can occupy a lot of time, as the plan works its way up the chain of command, before it is approved. It is always a nerve-wracking exercise, because the machine is permanently hungry for improved results and the numbers being bandied about by the bosses are often daunting. The local leader has to then sell these dubious growth increases to the team. They are all card-carrying sceptics and don’t believe these numbers are fair or possible. The motivation to attain them is dead on arrival when they hear the targets and you the leader have to whip up their enthusiasm to achieve them.
Actually, being a leader is a real test of your communication skills and many bosses are found wanting. This is purely a factor of no training ever having been invested in this aspect of leadership. Why we would expect average leaders to be above average communicators, is a bit of a mystery and the same goes for why we think they can sell the unconvinced on the required numbers. Being a skilled communicator is what lifts managers into leadership positions. They are able to find the means for the team to self-discover their motivation and their own commitment to the common cause.
As leaders we cannot motivate anyone. Try it. Keep repeating “be motivated” over and over to your team members and see what happens. The answer will be nothing, because the mere notion of saying it is ridiculous. The motivation has to come from within. The team have to believe that the organisations strategy and direction are aligned with what they want to achieve. This is the skill of the leader. They have to parse out where the bits line up and convince the team that working hard is in their interests, and will get them to where they want to go.
How will the leader know the details? Working hard on their own tasks won’t do it. This requires that most valuable element of leader power – time. The hours allocated to talking with the team, in both formal and informal situations, is how the leader keeps up to date with what the team wants. Someone in their twenties will have certain needs and these will change once they get married and will change again later, when they have children. When their kids grow up the needs change again and the same occurs when their parents begin to age and need more help. Knowing what their people want is a moving feast and this needs constant attention, because the needs keep changing.
One of the things team members want is help to do better in their careers. They want coaching and mentoring by the boss, but the boss timetable is full of meetings and this will defeat staff aims very quickly. Boss schedules seem to attract meetings like a magnet and before you know it, there is hardly any time for anything but attending and then following up from the meetings already held. At different times in my corporate life, I felt like I was a professional meeting attendee.
If the boss’s job is to run the processes, set the direction and build the people, then this latter function needs to be worked on. Left to spontaneous combustion, nothing will happen, the time will be drawn off by competing priorities and won’t be done in the fashion or volume required to make a difference. If you take a look at your recent work schedules and add up the time you spent mentoring and coaching team members, you might be in for a shock.
By the way, here is a hint – giving orders and telling people what to do, doesn’t count as coaching. If this coach element is so important, then it needs time allocated to it. We need to block that time out and defend it, just as we would a meeting with a client. We don’t let anything distract us from client time and we have to think of our staff as internal clients, who deserve the same attention and treatment. If we can do that, then we will be in a position to get a better balance in our leadership time allocation. If we want the team to pony up and do the impossible again this year, then we need their cooperation and motivation. They way to get both is to invest our precious time in them and if we don’t, then we are planting the seeds of our leader doom.