Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Rookie managers and many experienced ones are by nature "take-charge" people, labeled as such because they want to assert leadership. The more experienced, the more savvy, and the more horizontal competency you develop beyond your original core specialty, the more you will uncover problems to be solved, and situations to be exploited.
This process is as anticipated as opening day at Fenway Park. You believe your direct participation will influence positive results, so the temptation to become more involved becomes irresistible. Key learning: the difference between an effective leader and anineffective one is that the latter will become involved with all kinds of ancillary dilemma, even if he or she is not held personally responsible for solving those problems, or for managing the outcome. On this seemingly small proposition, may turn a department and sometimes a career.

When Jack Welch ran G.E., he became adept at creating the concept of mini teams within departments, all under the flag of the company's monolithic structure. The results were spectacular. His "teams" were not window dressing for a management thesis or pop psychology seminar; instead they were action units with specific assignments clearly chiseled from the company or division's action strategy. The concept can be borrowed and applied in even small groups like radio clusters, academic faculties or athletics.

As a manager, you may encounter opportunities to get involved with subordinates, with other managers, or with officers of your company. Just the same, there must be a perceivable line that when crossed, leads you into unproductive activity, and worse, may slowly kill the very person you're trying to help. The temptation to get involved with one of your staff members occurs when that person is falling-off in performance with a specific assignment, resulting in tactical failure. The solution is not to pick up the slack, falsely believing you'll save the project or the person. Instead, you must either redirect that staff member toward improvement, or, replace them. The only remaining option lies in your doing their job, which is not leadership but enabling, under which they fail regardless.

Innocently taking on responsibility for a peer's problems may lead you onto rocks and shoals long before you recognize it, since the more responsibility someone holds, the greater their span of influence in the organization. Carrying a department head in programming or sales on a sustaining basis is the equivalent of jaywalking on Broadway while blindfolded. You're there to 
develop your staff, not to rescue them.

Back-channel involvement under the direction of a superior introduces even more jeopardy, mainly because you're out on a limb without a company-wide prescription for organizational understanding, much less specific commensurate reward even if your shadowy goals are achieved. Final score: patient-1, doctor-nothing.

It's very difficult for established managers, much less new ones, to know how far to go in recognizing someone else's problems, and entering their circle of responsibility. Self-generated problem solving can't be confused for results, and will usually manifest in your performing work for which you were not selected nor assigned. Knowing when to engage problems and when to stand-down is a key part of advancing your leadership.



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