What I’m Watching Now: Why Leaders Eat Last

The cost of leadership is self interest. If you’re not willing to give up your perks when it matters, then you probably shouldn’t get promoted. You might be an authority, but you will not be a leader.

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How to Not Be a Micromanager

When I was younger, I had a manager, who in the five minutes before a project was due, would stand over my shoulder and comment on my work. It was the worst kind of micromanagement. It was impossible to do my best work with someone quite literally breathing down my neck. But micromanagement isn’t always as insidious. At its core, it is simply the inability to let go of control. Whether that means not delegating work, checking in far too frequently, over-emphasis on the minutia, or being the sole decision maker, micromanaging is not only demoralizing, but unproductive. No matter how well meaning you are, you’ve got to let go. Here are a few tips:

Step 1: Assess yourself – Do you have trouble delegating work even when you should? Do you feel the need to be involved with each step of execution? Do you ask your employees to check with you before making decisions? Do you feel like you only trust the quality of work you do yourself? Do you find yourself making changes constantly, never satisfied with the finished product? If yes, it’s time for step two.

Step 2: Understand yourself – We all have some trouble loosening the reins, but micromanagers struggle to do so more than others. Often micromanaging is the result of insecurity, perfectionism, and pressure. “They are worried that they will be criticized if they’re not doing it perfectly. And anybody that reports to them is an extension of themselves,” said social worker Carvel Taylor of micromanagers.

Step 3: Understand the impact – It’s true, giving up your work may mean that it doesn’t meet your normal standards, but by not delegating, you are holding your employees back. You are preventing them from learning and yes, making mistakes, but ultimately growing and becoming better employees. You are hindering their ability to be creative and demonstrate their unique capabilities. You aren’t helping yourself by doing everything, and you certainly aren’t helping your employees.

Step 4: Refocus your energy and efforts – Instead of focusing on controlling, focus on enabling. A manager’s role is to equip their employees to succeed, or as Lao Tzu put it, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when the work is done, they will say: we did it ourselves.” If your employees aren’t ready to take on the work, you haven’t yet done your job as a manager. Take the time and energy that you would have spent micromanaging and doing it all yourself, and put it into teaching them how. Help them to improve and understand the expectations. Encourage them to ask questions and check in instead of you always doing so. Give them meaningful, not daily feedback. When you feel like you can take a day off and everything will continue just as well without you, then you know you’ve done your job.

Step 5: Repeat step 1 through 4 – Going from micromanagement to a more hands off approach isn’t easy. Don’t give up if you feel like you are reverting to your old ways. In the same thread, don’t think one week of change is enough. Constantly reassess yourself and your employees to determine where you are in comparison to where you should be.

Micromanagement can be debilitating for employees who will feel stifled under suffocating leadership, but it can also be debilitating to the manager to constantly carry the burden of responsibility. So let go a bit and share the responsibility, share leadership, and then share the success.

The Truth About Leadership

There is an old military saying, “No guts, no glory,” which rightfully implies that without taking some risks, putting yourself out there, and working hard, you can’t achieve success. But when it comes to leadership, I offer you a different take on that quote. Instead, I’d argue that good leadership is “all guts, no glory.”

All Guts

Good leaders have to make the tough decisions. The top of the heap is also the end of the line, and often making those decisions, whether they are risky or unpopular, comes down to the leader. Leaders have to make the decisions that are right for their organization, even if they are hard. Often they take criticism for these decisions from those who don’t recognize the broader strategy or who can’t yet see the long-term benefits. It is not a role for the thinned skin, as often when times are challenging or when change is required, the leader is the first to take the brunt. When then CEO, Lou Gerstner, reinvented IBM in the 90s, he was often told by colleagues that his plans would never work. Yet, ten years later when he retired, IBM was back to its position of industry leadership. But that’s what good leaders do. They stand up for what’s right, not easy. They take responsibility for their decisions, and they guide their organizations toward the future. Leadership is about guts.

No Glory

As legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul Bear Bryant, once said, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” Good leaders aren’t in it for the glory; they are in it for the win. Good leaders know that leadership is about empowering those around you; it’s about getting your employees to be their best and to achieve great things. It’s not about credit. If a leader has done her job, she should be able to walk away and have everything run just as smoothly as when she was there.  Good leaders recognize their employees’ work, because they understand that those results are a reflection of themselves. Leadership is not about glory.

So while we may often portray positions of leadership as merely positions of status, the truth about leadership is that good leaders aren’t in it for the status. Good leaders must be tough enough to make hard decisions, to own those decisions, and to stand by them even in the face of criticism, because good leaders do what is necessary, not what is popular. And while we may think leadership is about getting praise and admiration, the truth about leadership is that good leaders aren’t in it for the credit. Instead, good leaders focus on the success of those around them. They recognize the hard work of their employees and praise them for their achievements. So if you want to become a leader someday, don’t do it for the glory, do it because you have the guts.

Friday Fast Tip: Slow, Don’t Stop

Over the course of our professional lives, there will be times when we wish to slow down – perhaps when we are raising a family, for example. Often, we are inclined to believe that we must completely stop what we are doing to do this, but when we are ready to accelerate our careers again, it can be daunting. Instead of stopping, find ways to slow down. Work with your manager to set a more flexible schedule that meets your needs, and then when you are ready to hit the gas, you won’t be starting all over again.

What I’m reading now: Coaching & managing

But the most effective managers who are also effective coaches learn to be selective about giving direction. Rather than use their conversations as an opportunity to exert a strong influence, make recommendations, and provide unambiguous direction, they take a step back, and try to draw out the views of their talented, experienced staff.