We work with a lot of managers, literally thousands of them over the years from all walks of organisational life. One of the big things we always find ourselves addressing is the tendency to succumb to the gravitational pull of activity. The stuff that keeps managers buried in the day to day operations and therefore failing to get some height and lead their teams. Everyone we meet seems to know that this is not ideal, that it hinders the growth of team members, that it frustrates the people working for you, that it lacks any thought of the future and buries us in the now. But even so, most managers struggle to ‘take off’ get some height and lead rather than do.
The reasons for this are many. It’s very easy to give a reason as to why you, as a manager has to be involved in the day to day doing. Many of those reasons will be genuine, but I want to suggest that stepping up and leading is always a choice you have as the manager of any team. The skilful piece is working out where and when you can choose to lead rather than defaulting at all times to being operational. This may be simpler than it seems. Here are six steps you can follow to work this out in an intelligent way, to stop managing and start leading.
Step 1 – Understand the territory.
This is the easiest part of the exercise but I would still encourage you to think it through carefully, capturing your ideas somewhere so that we can work with them during the following steps.
I like to do this in a three by three box grid. That gives you nine areas (that’s not too important as you may only have a few areas or maybe nine is not enough), but spreading your list around the page will give us some space for working on each area later.
Simply list all your areas of responsibility. What are the blocks of work that you have to be concerned about as a manager in your role? By way of example, here are my nine areas; Finance, People, Marketing, Sales, Customers, Organisational learning, Face to face training solutions, Online learning solutions, Processes.
What are yours? Work it out and write it down somewhere.
Step 2 – Evaluate clarity.
Now take each of your defined areas in turn and ask whether there is a high level of clarity about what is required of you and your team. Is there consistency, is there repetition, do you have predefined outcomes and or procedures, are the goals clear? Can you say under each area what it is you are striving to achieve? If the answer to these questions is a strong yes, then assume a good level of clarity exists, even if you might question how well these things are known throughout the team. Mark each area high or low for clarity, then move to step 3.
Step 3 – Evaluate competence.
Next you need to think about the competence of your team members. This can be collectively or individually if appropriate. Do they have the requisite skills to deliver the desired outcomes of each area. Think about how it is today, rather than your aspiration. Take each area in turn and ask whether they could (A) deliver it without additional experience, (B) would need support and or (C) would need training from the beginning. Add your teams competence levels to the page you are building.
Step 4 – Identify where you could lead today.
Now go back over each area and identify those that have both high levels of clarity and competence. I like to put an ‘up arrow’ to indicate height and leadership against these. These are the areas that you can and should be leading, not doing. This is where your choice comes in, it’s up to you to choose not to be operational in these areas. It’s like a premeditated response every time this type of work comes up – you make the choice to lead it, not deliver it. My own example of this would be in my Finance area. There is absolute clarity about what my finance people are required to do, there are monthly process, there is clear intent. But as well as this, there is complete competence. I know that I can rely totally on the team to know what to do and how to do it to a standard I am happy with. So if anything finance comes up, anything whatsoever, then I will lead on it, but I will not deliver it. I will actively avoid the doing, so that I can step up and give direction. You can do the same. Take a look across your areas and make the choice to lead.
Step 5 – Identify where you have to be operational.
Here’s the practical reality, there will always be some areas that you will still have to have an operational focus. These are where you either have low levels of clarity or low competence, and or a combination of the two. Obviously this can change in the future, but for now you need to accept that you’re going to be doing less leading and more delivering. For me the example is with sales activity. We have good clarity concerning the goals and the processes, but I do not have the competence or resource within the team. That means until I actively change this, I have to deliver the sales activity for iManage. I use a down arrow to indicate this next to the area.
Step 6 – Identify potential movements.
Our final step requires us to assess whether there are any areas that are currently down (operational for me) that with a little work could start to be things I could lead in the future. There will always be two things I’ll have to work on to be able to properly lead; the clarity of what’s required and the competence of the team in delivering it. Sometimes it will be both, sometimes one or the other. Go back through your list of areas and ask whether there’s something that you could do to begin the process of shifting that area from being operational to leading it. My example is face to face training. Each month I’m actively seeking to do less training delivery myself, as I transition from being totally operational a couple of years ago, to some future point when I might become totally strategic and only lead in this area. Right now it’s a mix of the two, so I use an up arrow with the arrow head placed halfway up the line to indicate this. Take another look at your list and identify any areas that you could work on to become less operational and more strategic. Mark them on the page.
This exercise can really pay dividends if you take some time aside and work through the steps methodically. Start becoming the leader that you need to be, and create a competent team that know exactly what they’ve got to achieve. Help yourself by remembering your team will never develop unless you step up and give them the opportunity to learn. Stop kidding yourself that you have to be so operational, the best managers are always those that lead and empower the ability of their teams. For me, this is like the 101 of being a great manager, they actually stop managing and start leading!