Busyness is endemic to most senior roles these days – is it a habit, a fashion or a plague?
Leadership is a critical skill in our society. It could be argued that leadership is THE critical skill. That very many of the challenges we face in poverty, education, corruption, conflict, crime and so on are to do with inadequate leadership somewhere. It is very much in all of our interests to upgrade our leadership. Both our own leadership and the people we choose to follow.
We need to promote and follow leaders with integrity, humility, who pursue the greater good, and perhaps more prosaically, we also need leaders who know how to be available.
The typical progression is that someone is good at their job and they get promoted, until they are responsible for a group of people and then maybe responsible for people who are themselves responsible for people and so on.
Usually people are promoted almost as a reward for being good at whatever it is that they do – whether it is sales or engineering or law or finance or IT or whatever. It is relatively rare for organisations to promote people specifically for being good at leadership.
Once someone is promoted, if they are lucky, they get the opportunity to learn leadership. If they (and their team) are less lucky, they are just expected to get on with it. Either way what many of us do at this point is to carry on our previous activities and just add a bit of leadership/management on top. It is difficult to let go of something we are good at and confident in, especially when it is the thing we have been promoted for, and devote our time to learning and practicing the new skill of leadership, but if we want to succeed as leaders, letting go is exactly what we need to do.
Leaders need to devote at least 80% of their time to leadership. And leadership does not mean creating grand visions, devising strategies or taking decisions ourselves. Leadership means leading others through the challenges and processes of creating grand, visions, devising strategies and making decisions. Leadership does not mean doing these things, just as it does not mean making the sales or writing the contracts, it means making sure these things get done in the best possible way, by the best possible people.
Part of the reason that leaders need to work this way is to make sure that the best people available are doing the job and feeling motivated and engaged in doing it. Another part of the reason for working this way is to ensure that leaders are available. Leaders need to have spare capacity. It is when leaders are too busy that things go wrong. Leaders need to have the bandwidth and the sensitivity to notice the subtle signs of tension or changes in the environment or anything that might affect the team or organisations ability to be effective.
Far too many organisations end up with leaders piling more and more work on themselves; accepting responsibility that has been delegated upwards and tasks that have been delegated downwards. Part of the skill of leadership is to navigate these pressures to clear enough diary space to truly lead.
In this regard two skills are a must for truly effective leadership:
1 – proactive diary management: Far to many of us allow our diary to be filled by others who want a bit of our time. Leaders need to proactively prioritise the things that they need to do and put that time into the diary – even if it is wandering around the office saying “Hi” to people or taking time to think. If you don’t take control of your diary someone else will, and who is to say that their prioritisation is better than yours?
2 – delegation: Be really clear about delegating anything that is not something that you alone can do. A pre-requisite of delegation is to have a team of trusted and capable people to work with – to share decision making, workload, ideas and creativity. This means there is a requirement to prioritise investing time in building the team and the relationships to the point where delegation is successful.
The loneliness of leadership is a myth. Leaders need to be among the team ensuring collaboration, taking decisions collectively and making sure things get done and being available if things go wrong, all without interfering.
If you think this is helpful – please share it as widely as you can. A world with great leaders would be a better place.
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