Overmanaging and Underleading

October 17th, 2011 | Posted in Clarity by

What do leaders really do?  This is a question I ask on the first day of every Fit Leader’s Program I conduct.  

Typical answers include: communicate a vision, resolve conflict, create budgets, recruit top talent, ensure sufficient resources, etc. 

With 20-30 answers documented on flip chart paper around the room, I proceed to teach John Kotter’s model of leadership which points to just three leadership activities: setting a clear direction, aligning the organization with that vision and continuously motivating and coaching employees so they stay on board.  

According to Kotter, everything else is management.  Resolving conflict, staffing the organization, resource planning and budgeting are all management activities.

Now, this is not to say that leaders don’t have to know how to manage.  They most certainly do.  And managers have opportunities to lead every day by setting clear direction for their teams, connecting them to the broader strategy of the organization and motivating them to stay focused.  

The bigger problem we see in many organizations is that many leaders are overmanaging and underleading.  Because many leaders are promoted into their leadership roles because they managed well, they often continue to manage even after they have been asked to step up to a different role in the organization.

When leaders overmanage and underlead, they can choke the leadership pipeline by preventing those coming up the organizational ladder from getting the key experiences they will need to advance themselves. 

If the new leaders continue to do the work they were doing before they were promoted into leadership, they also are not focusing their time on the more strategic requirements they’ve been asked to take on in the areas of setting direction, aligning and motivating.

Leaders can avoid underleading by asking themselves just  three questions at the end of each day:

  1. What have I done today to clarify direction for the members of my team so they see where we are headed?
  2. How have I connected the work of my team to the broader goals of the organization and to the needs of our customers?
  3. What have I done to motivate my team so they continue to stay focused on the overall strategy even when it may take some time to achieve?

The best managers lead, and the best leaders manage.  Leaders can achieve a more optimal balance between the two by finding time each day to set clear direction, align their people to the broader agenda of the organization and coach their teams to sustainable success by creating an environment where everyone feels rewarded by their progress.

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