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Managing a business is very different than leading an organization. This distinction may sound subtle or merely seem like semantics. The fact is, however, that this difference is often the determinate between stagnation and growth. Leaders who fall into the trap of managing fail to spend the needed time guiding their organization forward. They are too busy working “in” the business rather than “on” the business.
Leaders who fall into the trap of managing fail to spend the needed time guiding their organization forward.
This is an easy trap. The temptation to take over, to “chip in” or oversee a project is enormous. In many ways it can viscerally feel as if a more meaningful contribution is being made. In my experience, a company that is stalling is often indicative of a leader who is too busy managing. So why is this a bad thing? If you, as a leader, are down in the engine room helping to stokes the fires, who is at the the helm watching out for the icebergs? To continue this analogy, who is inspiring the crew to deliver great service or assuring the passengers of their safe passage? A leader has different responsibilities than a manager.
If you, as a leader, are down in the engine room helping to stokes the fires, who is at the the helm watching out for the icebergs?
The other challenge with spending too much time in the proverbial “engine room” is it becomes an accountability killer. If you want your people to develop, grow and succeed, you have to give them the room to fail. If as the leader you jump into every key decision and participate in every major project, that room does not exist. Sure you may mitigate the risk of failure, but you also quell the opportunity for growth.
If you want your people to develop, grow and succeed, you have to give them the room to fail.
Here is where this gets tricky. This temptation to manage cloaks itself in many disguises. It is cunning, it manipulates you into believing that you are doing what a leader should do. I was with a CEO the other day. She said to me that it’s important to her that her people know that she is hands on, willing to roll-up her sleeves and dive in. So, she spends a lot of time in the field with her people. So I said to her that I think that is great, but which one of them do you have leading the company while you spend all this time out of the office? I call this the “Undercover Boss” syndrome. Listen, it is great and hugely important to be with your people, to be approachable. But don’t fool yourself, they want and need you to be their leader. They want to be assured of that safe passage. You don’t have to do their job, to make them feel heard, cared for, valued and respected. As their leader, you need only find a way to do just that.
Let me offer another example; a leader who shares with his team that he personally is going to oversee a critical new project because he wants to have absolute certainty of its success. What a huge punch in the gut that would be. He just told his entire team that he did not have confidence in their abilities. He is the ultimate micro-manager. Again, if you want people to succeed, you must give them the room to fail. This doesn’t mean that you accept failure. Insist that they install KPI’s, require routine report outs, develop processes and procedures that will alert you and the team to a potential failure before it becomes one. None of the things I just outlined require you to be the manager of the project. They do require you to lead it, which is entirely appropriate.
I understand that this is a nuanced differentiation and one not easily articulated. So let me leave you with this suggestion. Evaluate the activates that you are involved with. Ask yourself, is this managing my business or leading my organization? Really examine what it is that you are doing, push hard to identify this point of difference. If you do, and therefore start spending more of your time leading your organization, I am confident your results will change.
At times this is something you can’t see. It is in your blind spot. Frankly, bringing awareness to those blind spots is what I do, and if you are interested in having a conversation about your specific situation, please reach out, and I would be happy to set up a time to talk. You can also leave more general comments below and I will do my best to respond to each.
Thanks for reading.
Elliot Begoun is a Business Growth Consultant and the Principle of The Intertwine Group. His purpose is to help businesses and business leaders grow. He works to solve real issues, establish strategic guardrails, develop integrative leaders and foster employee enlightenment.
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