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Don’t React Your Way Into Bad Management

By Randy Hall

I was speaking with a leader recently who found himself reporting to a new boss after a reorganization in the company he was working for.  One of the things that was immediately evident about the new boss was that she wanted to control the flow of information from her team to the rest of the organization.  Essentially, every communication that went to her peers, other functions, or senior leadership from her team, had to go through her first.

I get a little exhausted just thinking about it.

Already, even in a short time with the new team, they are frustrated with her, working harder because now everything takes longer as they have to “craft” a message rather than just communicate freely and candidly.

If I am that boss, most of my time is now spent gathering, filtering, shaping and delivering information.  I also set up a process whereby everyone who I communicate with, now communicates back through me instead of directly to my team.  I just gave myself a full-time job managing what my team says and hears. I don’t have much time left for anything else.

Which begs the questions, what kind of impact do I want to have in my role as a leader and what do I have to spend my time on in order to deliver that impact?  If we haven’t thought about that question as a leader, we can find ourselves drifting into all kinds of management things that absolutely do not need to be done.

More importantly, if “creating a fully engaged team” is on your list of things to be done as a leader, you have to know that tactics like making your team members jump through hoops with their information flow is probably not something that is in the slightest way engaging to them. Raise your hand if you would be excited about working on that team.

Making our team dance to the beat of our insecurities, impulses, habits and needs is one of the quickest ways to cause them to want to work for someone else instead, and to spend more of their time telling friends and others what a terrible leader we are.

Make sure you start with your best picture of what leading means to you as you make choices on how to lead others.  It’s a great practice to write that down, revisit it, let it evolve and continue to guide you.  Create moments where you are away from the pressures of the business, since we don’t do our best thinking work there, and write those things down.

Then start to organize them into priorities for yourself so that you can schedule things that will get you to that place. Then we can build habits and patterns and repeatable steps that actually move us toward success.

Of course we have to deal with the realities and challenges of our business but if our version of leadership is to simply react to all of the things we need to deal with in the moment, with no plan for what kind of team, culture, level of engagement, capability, innovation, creativity, and results we want to create firmly in place before the storm of things we have to deal with hits, then we will only ever get the reactive things done.

I don’t know this boss that got described to me and I have never worked with her.  What I believe to be true is that if I were to ask her what kind of leader she wanted to be for this team and how she wanted them to spend their time, she is not on the path she would probably articulate.

Choose your path, or it will be chosen for you by the habits you develop from reacting to things that happen to you. That’s certainly how we become the best leaders we can and it might even be how we create our best life.

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