It happened several years ago during my meeting with one of my direct reports, Karen, on her last day of work. She had been the Director of Physician Relations at the hospital where we worked and she was moving out of the area as a result of her husband’s relocation. Her last words to me were “best boss ever.” Wow! How often do we as leaders get to hear something like that?!
Researchers estimate that the average professional spends over 60 hours each month in meetings and that over half of that time is wasted or unproductive. Recapturing some of this time would be a huge boon for many but doing so first requires us to reconsider why we have so many to begin with.
“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” — Harvey Firestone I Recently I facilitated a small group coaching session for new leaders in our Leading People, Managing Work training program at Tandem Solutions. Near the end of the course, several participants mentioned that one of the topics we covered–“Delegation to Develop”–was particularly helpful for them. It also happens to be one of my favorite topics!
A senior level executive in a large company was overwhelmed with too much work, and needed to find a way to better manage her time. The one consistent development request from her team was that she needed to find a way to be more available. When she heard this request, she was completely distraught: She felt like she was available 24/7 and never had any time to herself. We had to find a way to make large scale change to how she worked with her team.
I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Do Your Employees Feel Respected?” and it reminded me of a seminar I attended several years ago when I was president of a hospital. The course was about creating and sustaining patient care excellence in hospitals and one of the faculty was Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa and Treasury Secretary of the United States. I found one of his topics particularly meaningful – respect.
One of my favorite leadership authors, Warren Bennis, once described the difference between managers and leaders with the expression “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” Think about that for a moment. “Doing the right thing” means that rather than just perfecting all the things they currently do, leaders must have the ability to step back and question whether the things they are doing actually matter.
One of my father’s favorite expressions was that it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters. He typically pulled it out to refer to some type of perceived injustice involving nepotism or some other type of favor where the most qualified person wasn’t chosen for a position. While I don’t fully agree with him based on this interpretation, it is definitely true that who you know is pretty important for success as a leader.
When coaching new leaders, I frequently hear them tell me how overwhelmed they are with work and how difficult it is to get it all done. We sometimes talk about managing time, and delegating effectively as a means to “free up” time. At some point in the conversation, I usually ask where they want to be or what their team will be focused on in 2 or 3 years. Common responses include blank stares, or fumbling around to answer, or even admission that they just don’t know. The challenge here is that if the leader of a team doesn’t have clear direction for where it needs to go, it’s pretty much impossible to tell if you’re on the right track.
We often hear from new leaders that things like Email, instant messaging, and even cell phones, are the bane of their existence. It’s hard to list all the benefits these electronic tools have provided, and yet many curse them for making life so busy and these tools are frequently on the short list of reasons why leaders have no control over their time. One of the biggest benefits of these tools is also the biggest issue: they have enabled instant response. This is a tremendous benefit, but it also leads to the problematic expectation that we will always get this type of response.
Being promoted into a role that requires supervising a group of former peers is a common challenge. At the core of this challenge is the shift from a focus on the work to a focus on the team. Folks tend to think about the value they add to getting the work done, as in: “My job is to delegate effectively so that all the work stays on schedule;” or “I’m responsible for making sure the team is producing quality outputs.” These ideas aren’t necessarily wrong. However, while technical capabilities may have gotten someone to where they are, it’s likely that they are not enough to continue to propel someone’s career as a leader.
According to the International Coach Federation, most managers coach only at the time of the annual review. And if the employee is lucky, the manager may have some discussions with the employee to check in as the year progresses. This is a lost opportunity to adopt an effective leadership coaching partnership with employees. As a coach, your goal is to help your employees achieve results or overcome obstacles to get from where they are now to where they want to be in the future.
When I was a child, my father would often give me advice and coaching. Sometimes I would take his advice and it would yield great results. More often I didn’t take his advice because as much as he was well intended, I didn’t think he really knew the answer for my specific situation. I also didn’t want to be told what to do and how to do it. Rather I wanted to figure it out for myself. This would frustrate my dad. He would often tell me he wanted me to learn from his mistakes so that I didn’t make the same ones. He would argue, ‘Isn’t that just easier for you?”