I remember a few years ago sitting in a room full of Directors and being asked by the Big Guy In The Room what percentage of our time was spent leading, versus how much of our time was spent managing. Naturally, because we all had fancy titles and a lot of direct reports, our collective answer was that we led roughly 80% of the time, while the remaining 20% we spent dealing with execution details and “getting things done.”
Imagine our surprise when the Big Guy In The Room shot down our assumptions and reminded us that the Home Office set strategy, the Divisions aligned it, and we – as regional Directors – really spent around 80-90% of our time managing the business. For many of us, let’s just say it was disheartening.
Move forward a few years and I realize the absolute value in that lesson. There was no shame in the model, nor in the roles we played in it. A key component of Leadership Zen is that we all manage our daily lives – whether personal, professional, or otherwise – and within every one of us lies the capability to be a great leader. They key is in understanding which role you play, or need to play, at any given time.
Many of us celebrate our ability to get things done. While that is an awesome trait, leadership is really about getting things done through other people. If you think about your own style, ask how much of your time is spent directing others towards that common end, and how much of is devoted to guiding, coaching, and otherwise getting out of their way. If you do a truly honest assessment, you might find that less of you is more.
Certainly, there are situations that require a more directive leadership style, especially when timelines are short or there is a crisis afoot. But if one of the key determinants of your effectiveness as a leader stems from how you empower and develop future leaders, it is hard to build a case that you are doing that if you are merely asking people to execute against the plan.
The best way to describe leadership – the Leadership Zen way – is that your role is to set a vision and then remove barriers to others’ success. Even if the overall vision is set at a different level of the organization, great leaders find their own way, within their own spheres of influence and knowing their own teams, to create that freedom to lead that eventually grows new leaders and becomes a part of your overall shadow or signature. Make the decisions where you have to – and don’t be shy about it. But have the confidence in your teams – and in yourself – to allow them to do their own thing more often than not. You might be surprised what happens when you unleash collective creativity. You also might be surprised to find you’ve gained a few more followers.