In the not-so-distant past, I had the opportunity to experience a situation unfolding where a manager has taken on the role of “working manager” to a detrimental point, exacerbated by a number of facts. First, they are in a first-time management position with direct reports, which started as one and grew to 6 in a very short period of about two-and-a-half to three years. To make matters worse, their role has increasingly taken on more individual contributor responsibilities, while the responsibilities of the team members reporting to them have become increasingly varied and complex. This is a recipe for disaster.
Organizations today are increasingly attempting to “do more with less” which is not a new concept, but we see organizations taking it to frightening extremes at times. While to some degree this is a fact of business, we need to ensure that we are also being mindful of the conflicting measurements and expectations we place on leaders in the organization. How much time do you and/or your managers spend focusing on your own projects and tasks? How much time do you or they dedicate to actually managing and leading? Are your tasks and managing and leading your people considered different, and what is more critical? These are important questions.
Too often we forget that the functions of leading and managing are complex, and require focus and time. This is even more salient when leaders work with diverse workgroups across national and international boundaries, and across multiple areas of expertise. The basics of learning to delegate are important, but there is certainly more. Leaders in complex leadership situations need to the opportunity to say no, they cannot take on another task, another project, another product, another whatever without fear of reprisal. It is senior leadership’s responsibility to create and encourage this environment, and everyone’s responsibility to help support it. Further, it is the responsibility of leadership throughout the organization to make sure that the right people are not only in the right place, but also that they receive the right support at the right time. This means for themselves and other leaders.
We need the time, the training, and the support to be the best that we can, and that means each and every one of us, consistently. There is no silver bullet, but an important component is awareness. The awareness of senior leaders and mid-level leaders to recognize when they or others are taking on too much, or trying to be the hero, or trying to continue getting the accolades of being the “doer” versus being the leader. While there are many other areas for potential focus, this one thing makes a huge difference in engagement, creating a trusting environment, building relationships, and increasing potential and performance for everyone.