In my last post, I was ranting about the number of people who like to think of themselves as leaders but who are just glorified (and overpaid) individual contributors. I started to describe the activities that leaders at any level need to do to get their team on the right trajectory and going the right speed. (Go back and read it here.) I only got through half of the role of a leader (the first half, as work is planned and delegated). I’m back today to talk about the second half: the role of a leader as work is reviewed and monitored.
First half (quick review)
Your first opportunity to add value as a leader is to set your team off in the right direction and get them going at the right speed. You do this by painting a picture of the future and how much progress you need to make, by defining the strategies for how you will achieve your goals and trading off among priorities, and by setting the guidelines that allow your team to make some course corrections without your involvement. If you’ve neglected any of these, you haven’t positioned your team to succeed.
Once the wheels are in motion
Once work has begun, your role as a leader shifts significantly. Ideally, your team takes your direction and can execute with little intervention. Get out of the way!!! Your job is not to do their work for them. Instead, you need to do the following:
Stress test plans. Once you set a vision and strategy, your team should be translating them into plans. Your job is to review those plans looking for the underlying assumptions and ensuring that the team has prepared for a variety of scenarios. If you’ve been up to your eyeballs in the development of the plan, you lose your objectivity in providing sober second thought.
Monitor for results out of threshold. Most leaders I know monitor results maniacally. (One SVP I knew would hit refresh on this computer to see new orders as they came in one case at a time!) Your job as a leader is not to know every data point. Instead, you need to allow your team time to monitor results and implement course corrections. You should only be getting involved when the deviation is sufficient to need your insights and assistance. If you set thresholds up front, it will be clear where you should and should not jump in.
Engage on cross-functional conflicts. The vast majority of the time, your team should be able to collaborate across your organization and to resolve issues, even when they span across boundaries. Only when they are unable to resolve conflicts should you get involved to take the issue to a more senior table. While it should be a rare occurrence, when required, it’s absolutely critical that you move quickly to get resolution for issues that are stalling progress by engaging the appropriate decision makers.
Lobby for required resources. You don’t want to get involved in trade-offs that can be made within a team members’ budget (well, maybe you do want to, but you shouldn’t). You need to get involved in resource allocation when resources need to be moved across portfolios within your budget or when you need to engage with your leaders to secure resources beyond your budget.
Highlight systemic issues. Although getting involved in every little issue requiring course correction is a mistake, it is your role to identify trends and to spot the systemic issues that might be causing repeated concerns. Depending on the nature of the issue, you might be able to address it within your team or might have to raise the issue at another table. Either way, as a leader, you need to be identifying and resolving the root cause issues that inhibit progress.
Escalate material risks. Leaders take ownership of their results and resolve issues when they arise. That does not mean that you conceal issues and try to solve them without anyone knowing. DO NOT try to be a hero! A good leader knows when something is too important to keep quiet and notifies the appropriate people. Knowing the difference between when you should manage an issue on your own and when you should escalate it is the kind of judgment required in a leader.
I set off on this two-part series on the role of the leader after a few CEOs complained about the lack of value add from their leaders. I see it myself all the time: leaders in the weeds, doing the work of their direct reports (or their direct reports’ direct reports). If you are a leader, you need to spend less time and energy being an individual contributor and pay more attention to your role in setting your team up for success.