Leadership Lesson #1: How To Lead and Not Manage


It’s an issue that pops up every day in a million different ways: What’s the right level of guidance to give somebody? Sure, you don’t want to micro-manage. At the same time, you want to make sure the expectations and constraints are clear.

How do you strike the right balance? How do you lead and not manage?

The easy formula is to remember to focus on the result you want, not how to get there. Paint a picture of what success looks like, and then encourage the employee to figure it out. Maybe you say: “Bring me at least two options to consider.” Or maybe you say: “As long as you’re clear on what success looks like – and what not to do – then I trust you to figure out how to get it done.”

Both the goal and the constraints are important to communicate.

The goal: “We want a brand new service line that reaches this target demographic and generates $1 million in sales per month.”

The constraints: “We want to do it in a way that doesn’t cannibalize any of our existing service lines and enhances our reputation and brand.”

That’s enough guidance to give a trusted employee. You’d then ask yourself: Does he begin the process by meeting with the necessary people? Does he take responsibility to figure out the best way to get it done? Does he keep you updated?

The bigger picture question, of course, is how best to align structure and roles with the results and behaviors you want people to consistently exhibit? These are questions of both guidance and governance.

By guidance I mean setting long-term and short-term goals, clarifying roles and responsibilities, defining success metrics and targets, and laying out specific timelines and expectations. In other words, goals and constraints.

By governance I mean the different levels of management authority, starting with the board of directors, the CEO, senior managers, and every other level of management and supervision.

Effective organizations are very intentional about governance and guidance.

Rather than let it spring up haphazardly, they decide: Do we want to be a fast moving, nimble, adaptive organization? Do we want to be a deliberate, compliant organization? Answers to those questions will shape the mix of guidance and governance you want. If you want a nimble, adaptive organization, you’ll want fewer levels and layers of management with broad authority charged at each management level. If you want a more consistent, deliberate company, you’ll need to have a more hierarchical structure with multiple layers, and tighter reins on each level of control.

In the end, of course, it always comes back to great leaders and managers. Do they know how to paint a clear picture of the results and the constraints? Do they know them well enough to coach their teams? If so, you can be sure that people are getting the appropriate level of guidance and governance.

This blog is written by Eric Douglas, author of The Leadership Equation, a powerful leadership book to help you create a high-performing organization in times of accelerating change. LRI’s leadership development experts can provide coaching to help you or others in your organization develop leadership skills. Please call us for a free consultation at 800-598-7662 or email your inquiry.

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