The Leadership Heresy You Can't Live Without

I'm in trouble now. I’m about to commit heresy. On a site dedicated to leadership, with the very word lead in the title, I want to address what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of your workplace leadership.

In my work with thousands of business leaders across industries, geography, and over many years, I’ve repeatedly seen people lose their influence because they don’t address this one thing.

In many leadership forums, many leadership books, and not a few social media memes, what I’m about to say would be skewered, and yet… your credibility and influence depend on it.

What is this leadership heresy? Management.

Why Management Is Vital To Your Leadership

Your leadership depends on your credibility. You can’t influence people if they don’t trust you. Where does that trust come from? In addition to relational health, the foundation of that trust is your basic management competence.

I don’t mean that you have to become a certified project management professional in order to have influence. What I do mean is that if you don’t have the basics in place, you create chaos and lose credibility with your people.

Now, I understand that many leadership texts will tell you, “if you’re not good at management, hire it.” Hogwash.

If you run the company, by all means, lead and then hire a good operations person to manage. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re like the vast majority of people with business leadership roles (99+%), the idea that you can hire someone to do your management for you is pure nonsense and dangerous as well.

Even if you should become CEO, you’re responsible to make sure these things happen. If they don’t, it’s your responsibility. The good news is, the basics of management aren’t difficult.

4 Steps to Manage Well & Build Credibility

At its most basic, management involves a few set of practices that are relatively simple. As the old saying goes: "it's not hard, it's just hard work". When we struggle as managers, it is often because we have failed to do one of the following:

  1. Set Clear Expectations - I’ve coached managers and team leaders in more than 2000 sessions and in 90% or more of those conversations, the problems we’re discussing happened because expectations were not clear. It happened to me again recently. I was frustrated with my colleague’s work, but when I stopped to think about it, I hadn’t shared my expectations. I had my own image of what the project looked like and when it would be completed, but we’d never discussed it. Expectations can come from many sources: the team itself, the manager, the organization. Regardless, if they are not clear, they will not be met, and I can guarantee you will be frustrated.
  2. Train & Equip Your Team To Meet Expectations - After clear expectations, the next pitfall is in assuming that everyone has the knowledge or skills to meet those expectations. Ensure your team members are set up for success! Training isn't a one-time event. Often your people need initial orientation, then spot checks and updated instruction along the way.
  3. Reinforce Expectations - This may sound redundant, but think about this for a moment. Every second your mind is inundated with eleven million pieces of information1. Think about how easily you can get distracted. In fact, I’ll bet that you’ll get distracted at least once while you read this article. Don’t worry, I’m not offended - that’s just the way we’re built. Effective leaders and managers know that they must continually reinforce expectations and keep clear priorities in front of their team. We all need reminders from time to time about where we're going and why we're going there. If your team were a rock and roll band, reinforcing expectations is like the bass line or drum that anchors the song and keeps everyone on track.
  4. Celebrate & Practice Accountability - Accountability doesn't only mean discipline - real accountability celebrates our accomplishments and gives us course corrections as needed. We can easily demotivate our teams by failing to acknowledge success or by failing to hold everyone accountable.

Your Turn

Remember - your leadership influence is built on a foundation of trust. Your basic management skills provide a strong foundation for inspiring your team to build a better tomorrow. As you wrestle with management challenges, I invite you to ask these four questions:

  1. Are expectations clear to both parties?
  2. Does your team have the skills and equipment to succeed?
  3. Have you consistently reinforced the expectations?
  4. Do you consistently practice accountability and celebration?

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