Leaders: Spend More Time Leading People and Less Time Doing Stuff
The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius had a few things to say about leadership, one of which is the rather cavalier “the best leaders do nothing.” This was, of course, a challenge to manage talented employees with a light hand to maximize their ability to grow and contribute.
This popped up in a LinkedIn article posted by Yoshito Hori, founder of a business education company called Globis. He agreed that Confucius was probably being provocative, trying to get people to re-examine their own leadership styles to uncover tendencies to micro-manage, or keep tasks to themselves that should be delegated to subordinates.
Do Less – Lead More
Mr. Hori’s thoughts on leadership are naturally more refined than one grand but vague quote from Confucius.
“The best way to grow a successful company is to grow the organization, and the best way to grow the organization is to get your employees to grow into leaders themselves—by encouraging them to develop new skills and perform at the very edge of their abilities.”
We have written before about the balance you have to strike as a boss to get the most out of your people, but to err on the side of “hands off” or “guide on the side” is the mindset to take.
So ask yourself a question or two as you work through your day:
- Are you stopping by to check in to ease your own mind (not constructive) or to find out where you might add some value in pushing the process forward (constructive)?
- Do you call meetings just so that people can bring you up to speed (not constructive) or only when it is time to let the team share and critique ideas or make decisions (constructive)?
- Do you spend more time giving direction in your conversations with subordinates (less constructive) or listening and responding to their ideas about how to move forward (more constructive)?
Have you habitualized engaging leadership actions that you employ in every interaction with your subordinates, peers and bosses?
- Valuing ideas that are not your own, or that challenge your perceptions about a particular issue.
- Welcome challenging input that takes you out of your comfort zone, and consider how you should adjust your mindset to accommodate it.
- Encourage and reward “errors of commission” if the effort is well-intended.
- Seek to learn from failure as well as success, and encourage co-workers to do the same.
- Keep criticism focused on the action, not the person involved. You hire talented people, but they are all human and will make mistakes. What were their intentions? What was their goal? How else can you work with them to reach the goal, if it is the right goal? How do you redirect them if their goals have strayed from the team’s mission?
Where Mr. Hori used the term “absent” to describe how some bosses should conduct themselves, I prefer “out of the way but available.” Plus, all leaders are charged with building and maintaining a fully engaged workforce, and that takes constant attention. Most workers need the occasional pat on the back and recognition that their work is both good and meaningful. Only the boss can provide that! So being “absent” actually strikes me as a bit counterproductive.
Great leadership is focused on better engagement, higher productivity and faster goal achievement thereby. Great leaders create a work environment that fosters aligned, passionate action from every team member that moves everyone forward towards the objective, one human interaction at a time.