If somebody asked you to explain what is leadership? How would you respond?
It’s hard, right? The concept of leadership is vague – and the funny thing is as long as we don’t have a good definition how can we talk about leadership?
What is leadership?
Let me give you my definition of leadership. For me, leadership means defining where to go. Who leads deals with the future of the company and with the people in the company.
If you are in leadership mode, you work on the vision of your company, you formulate goals and strategies. You reflect on innovation, positioning and customer benefits. You improve the processes in your company. And most important: You talk to and with your employees, you discuss, inform and inspire. All this is leadership.
If you are only managing
In recent years I’ve seen many managers who work hard – but they are unable to execute because they are trapped in their day to day work. These managers often feel frustrated and demotivated.
If you are in such a situation you start feeling like in a rat race. You work and work, but nothing important gets done. Your company is not growing, sales are stagnating and the mood of your workforce is low.
The reason for this is often, that most executives focus on management but not on leadership. They manage a lot but they don’t lead.
What is managing?
If you manage you focus on processes, you don’t work on the future and you don’t focus on people: You have no time for it. Managing is more about day-to-day business, administration, resource allocation, budgeting, costs and risk management, control, keeping deadlines. There is no time for other things. Numbers, data, facts! Pam!
Don’t get me wrong. Of course you have to do both: you can’t just lead. You have to lead and manage. But as a leader – above all – it is your job to keep track of the big picture. You have to deal with the future direction of your business and with taking care of your people.
If you don’t lead, who does?
I know many CEOs and managing directors who work around the clock and still feel they don’t really do their job. Many are trapped in the rat race of day-to-day operations.
They work a lot, but don’t take enough time for the real leadership tasks. Are you one of them?
The problem for most managers
The question is, why is that? Why do a lot of managers deal with so much operational stuff and administrative work instead of focusing on the most important tasks: leadership? I admit, that I also struggled myself with this problem for a long time.
This isn’t just a problem of CEO’s and managing directors. It doesn’t matter if you are a group leader, a team leader or if you were just promoted into your first managing role. Every manager seems to have more work to do than he has time for.
In my view, there are several reasons why managers think they don’t have time for leadership. The biggest challenge can be summarized in one sentence:
Leadership is important, but rarely urgent!
Developing a business strategy, talking to an employee, discussing the vision statement, thinking about customer benefits or improving processes – these leadership tasks are important, but they are not urgent.
If you develop the strategy today or only tomorrow, will not be a big difference. If you have this one-on-one meeting with your direct report today or only later next week, this doesn’t change the bottom profit line, does it?
In contrast, management tasks are usually urgent and have a deadline. But are they always that important? Not really.
Why is that so?
Management tasks are determined by others and they have normally a due date – a deadline. For example, the tax office needs documents at a given deadline, the participation in a trade fair must be decided until the end of the month. A customer urgently needs an offer by this evening. All these tasks have deadlines which were defined by someone else.
On the other hand, leadership tasks are generally self-determined and have no fixed date – at least, if you don’t define one.
Most people – and managers are no exception – have a tendency to focus on urgent tasks with a deadline and postpone tasks, which are really important, but not urgent.
Important or urgent? What is leadership?
As a result, many executives realize at the end of the day that they worked only on urgent tasks. This means that they didn’t find time to work on any leadership tasks. Too bad!
“But there are such a lot of urgent management tasks. They need to be done! They are all urgent and important.”
Really? Yes, a management task normally has a deadline. But keep in mind: Mostly this just means that someone else made it urgent. You may argue, that this management task is urgent and important, but very often it’s important for someone else – not necessarily for you.
If you’re a manager you should – on a daily basis – question, if and what kind of management tasks you have to do. Ask yourself everytime: Is it really necessary to do it? If yes: Is it necessary that I do it? If you can delegate then do so. I know this can be difficult sometimes and we will talk about how to delegate successfully in one of the following episodes: “LME002 – How to delegate successfully”.
But for now: Keep in mind, that management tasks don’t need to be done by yourself. You need time for the important leadership tasks.
Is leadership really so important?
This question often comes up when managers are convinced that facts and figures are most important in business. I agree that facts and figures are important but you miss out if you only focus on them.
What about the vision and the purpose of your company or your department? Not important? Be careful. Some managers think that the purpose of any company is easy to define. It is clearly to make profit. What else?
In my opinion, these managers are wrong. They have never experienced how motivating a big vision can be, how important values are and that the ultimate purpose of a company is not to make a profit. No, the purpose of a company is to create customer benefit and then the profit will come.
We will talk about this in one of the next podcast episodes. If you want to be successful, it’s important that you have a clear answer to the question
“Why? – Why does your company exist?”
and your answer should not be just to earn money.
Only when managers have a clear vision and a bigger goal, they can communicate with their employees in a way that they carry their employees along. If they do, their employees work on the right things. Why? Because then your employees know what is important. They understand what ‘s expected from them and only then will your employees be able to work independently. A true leader has a clear vision.
The problem is that managers often don’t believe this.
“Independently working employees? Forget it. Employees need to be told what to do in detail. Otherwise nothing gets done.”
The problem with micromanagement
That’s why this kind of managers are often at the mercy of “micromanagement“. Frustrated, they complain about the demotivation and inability of their employees. But they don’t understand: it’s their own fault.
If you don’t take the time to think and talk about vision, strategy and goals, how can your employees work towards these goals? How can they make decisions in your interest, if they don’t know your expectations?
That’s why you need to find the time for leadership.
3 tips how to find more time for leadership
You know by now, what is leadership. Here are three helpful tips to find more time for leadership.
Tip 1: Track your time.
If you want more time for leadership in your daily work, you first need to be aware of how much time you are currently spending on it.
Most managers only have a very vague idea of how much time they really spend on leadership. We all often underestimate the hours we spend with unproductive management instead of leading.
That’s why you should determine daily how many hours you have spent on leadership and how many on day-to-day management or on normal work.
You only have to log two numbers at the end of the day. Not more! Do this for 2 weeks and you have a good idea how much time you really spend on leadership.
Even if you managed all day long, if you write it down at the end of the day, you will at least realize that you did not spent any time on leadership that day. Realizing is the first step toward improving.
Just log your time. It costs you nothing but 2 min max at the end of the day. And it’s worth it. Just write it down on a piece of paper: How much time did you spend on leadership and how much time did you spend on management?
Tip 2: Set yourself a goal.
Set yourself a measurable goal. What percentage of your working time do you want to spend on management tasks over the next 3 months? This motivates yourself. But don’t overdo it. If you have only spent 10% of your time for leadership, it will probably be difficult to reach 50% in the short term. However, an increase from 10 % to 20 % is quite realistic.
Experience shows that there is no point in planning significantly more time for leadership tasks as early as next week. Your schedule is so full, it’s hard for you to make it. Therefore, set yourself the target for a 3-month period. By the way: When you have reached your goal, reward yourself. You deserve it.
Tip 3: Make important tasks urgent.
Since leadership is usually important but not urgent, we postpone it. Therefore, let’s outwit ourselves. Set fixed deadlines for leadership tasks in your planning and put them into your calender and your ToDo List. This automatically makes your leadership tasks urgent.
But sometimes you may find that this is not enough. After all, the appointment is self-determined and not determined by others.
In such cases it helps if you commit yourself to others. For example if you’ve always wanted to work on the important strategy for your company, you promise to present the results to your employees at the end of next month. Here’s the deal: a deadline for your important leadership task, which you just made urgent. It goes without saying that you must keep this promise. Stand up to your word. Through scheduling and commitment to others, you make an important leadership task urgent and the likelihood increases that you will actually complete this task on time.
This should help you to get started with leading more and managing less.
The inspiring quote
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Peter F. Drucker