Are You Leading or Managing? Are You Sure?

(This is the second in a series of posts on “leading vs managing.” If you want to keep up, signing up for the newsletter is the best way. /shamelessplug)

leading-vs-managing-ab-1-728In the introduction to this series, I laid out the distinction between leading and managing. Essentially, I said that those are shorthand for “managing the work” and “leading the people.” These are the two essential jobs of any kind of leader: deliver results, and build people.

Whenever I lay out this admittedly basic idea, I almost always get lots of head nods around the room. People understand it, and they agree with it. “Yep, we have to do both.” If I then ask them if they themselves do both parts of their job, most people again nod their heads. But if I press the point and ask them how they know, they become less certain.

There are actually three very simple tests you can use to see if you are balancing these two facets of being a leader. Here they are:

  • How do you spend your time?
  • What do you think about?
  • What do you spend time planning?

How Do You Spend Your Time

This is always first, because it is the easiest to see. Simply take your calendar and analyze a typical week. You’ll find that your time gets divided into these basic categories. The question is, how much time are you spending in each?

  • Managing your team’s work
  • Leading your team
  • Doing your own work assigned by YOUR leader
  • Doing work you have offered to do
  • Relating to your team’s customers
  • Relating to others inside your company

I’m not going to tell you what your numbers should be, as each person’s situation is different, and your level in the organization can affect your approach as well. However, I will note that when they take the time to do the analysis, many leaders find that their time use is out of balance — sometimes dramatically so. If you spend 80 hours a month managing the work, and 10 leading the people, you probably either have morale issues or a team that is already disengaged. If you are spending more time doing your own work than you are on your leadership tasks, your priorities are misplaced, or you need to have a talk with your own leader.

What Do You Think About?

This cuts a little deeper, as it deals with what engages your heart and mind about your work. When you think about your team and your job, what comes to mind first? When you are brushing your teeth in the morning, or driving to the office, or thinking through the coming week over the weekend, what issues and opportunities occupy your mind?

Again, there is no right or wrong answer here. However, just like the calendar, many leaders who take the time to reflect on this question come to realize that they are primarily focused on projects and deliverables, and much less on the needs of their people. Or, even worse, they are most focused on their own deliverables, and both their team’s work and their team’s health come second or third … or not at all.

What Do You Spend Time Planning?

Considering the crazy calendars that most leaders live with, when a leader carves out time to actually sit quietly and plan, that usually means that the thing being planned is really important. Taking notice of what actually gets planned ahead of time can tell us much about what the leader really values.

How much time do you spend actually thinking through and planning out your team’s work and deliverables? Do you think through the best assignments based on the strengths of each team member? Do you do good resource allocation, or just assign work willy-nilly? Do you have a system for monitoring deliverables, and commitments, and delegations?

Even more important — Do you take time to plan your team’s development? Do you reflect on each team member as a professional, with their own career, and do you think through the best way to grow that person? Do you make notes about the mood of your team and of individual team members? Do you plan coaching and feedback sessions?

Each of these forms of self-analysis can help you, the leader, gain insight into your own balancing of Leading the People and Managing the Work. Once you have done them, the follow-up questions are also pretty simple:

  • Are you happy with what you see?
  • If not, what needs to change, and how will you change it?

Gaining insight is one thing. Realizing what needs to change is another thing. Actually making those changes is, of course, the hardest thing. But, if we are going to be leaders, we have to figure out how to do both things well. That’s why they pay us the big bucks. <g>

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