How to Accomplish More by Doing Less
It’s a common work experience. You're great at your job, and you are rewarded with more duties. As your responsibilties grow, so does your list of to-dos and concerns. You work furiously to keep up, but there’s not enough of you to go around. Like the person who hogs the TV remote but won’t settle on one channel, you touch too many things, none of them very deeply. Rather than lifting your team's productivity, you are actually standing in the way.
You’ve become the Bottleneck-in-Chief.
If you want to accelerate the growth of your business and your progress as a leader, you’ll need to spend less time “doing” and a lot more time managing. Simply defined, managing is the art of getting things done through others. Whether you’re a corporate manager, director of a non-profit or a budding entrepreneur, here are a few management principles to help you greatly expand your impact.
Appreciate the Challenge
Tom Sawyer made it look easy when he recruited a bunch of his friends to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence for him. In real life, getting things done through other people is harder than it looks. It requires a different set of skills than technical or professional work. It involves focusing on tasks that will pay off over longer time horizons, without the gratification that comes from immediate results. It even requires a shift in values. Effective managers find most of their meaning in the accomplishments of other people rather than their own.
Fortunately, management skills can be learned. To strengthen your skills, study people who do it well, read the best management books, find experienced mentors who can help you learn on-the-job. Stick with it and be patient. It won’t happen overnight, but, with effort, you will steadily improve.
Focus on “What,” Not “How”
Learning to skillfully delegate is at the core of effective management. Strong delegators define what’s expected (what result do we seek?), and then get out of the way so that talented people can achieve that result. The idea is to be uncompromising about the expected outcome, while allowing others a lot of freedom with the “how.” If you find that you are continually hovering and correcting, ask yourself whether the right talent is in place, whether values and motives are aligned, or whether you are emotionally willing to let go of the assignment.
Learning to delegate is only half the battle. Most of us fall prey to the phenomenon of reverse delegation when we accept responsibility for burdens that rightly belong to someone else. In one of the classic management articles of all time, “Who’s Got the Monkey?” Authors William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass use the metaphor of a “monkey on the back” to illustrate how this happens. In your efforts to be supportive and helpful to others, be sure to avoid taking responsibility for a monkey that belongs on someone else’s back.
Look Further into the Future
An important management skill is learning to plan and think over longer time horizons. As you shift day-to-day work off of your plate, take advantage of the opportunity to look further down the road than in the past. Get clear about where your business needs to be 12 to 24 months from now, and what needs to happen today to get it there. Ensure that the right people are focused on these longer-term priorities instead of being overwhelmed by daily crises.
Surround Yourself With Great People
This is a cliché. But, it’s a cliché because it’s true. Put aside your ego and admit that there are plenty of people out there who are more skilled in the core work of your business than you are. Challenge yourself to find people who will multiply your firm’s potential.
Let Others Shine
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden, a tremendous leadership and management model in his own right, once said “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” Great managers multiply their power by taking this principle even further. They do care who gets the credit—they insist that their team, their partners and their bosses stand squarely in the spotlight.
John Bradberry is the CEO of ReadyFounder Services and author of 6 Secrets to Startup Success (AMACOM, 2011). He helps entrepreneurs and their ventures improve performance and achieve healthy growth.
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