Are You a Leader or Task Manager?

Are You a Leader or Task Manager?

When I see clients running around, never quite getting ahead of the ball, my inner anthropologist kicks in. Such frenzied activity offers important clues which tell me those clients: (1) haven’t delegated enough; (2) are at the mercy of their calendar and outer circumstances; and (3) are micromanaging because they don’t trust their team to do things right.

In these cases, I know I’m dealing with a task manager, and not a leader.

So in the midst of the chaos, I stop them for a moment, and ask why Joe over there in cubicle 4 is with the company. What motivates him to be there? What is his personal development goal inside his position? Most of the time the client has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

That is the mindset of a task manager. A leader will know the answers to my questions.

Often we suffer from the illusion that being busy and having lots of people doing lots of things for us makes us a leader. We have people! Doing stuff! And yet the team is probably marginally happy (at best), working to check the boxes, and watching the clock for Friday.

If this is you and your team, might I suggest another approach?

1) Get interested in the “why” of your people.

Find out what gets them out of bed every morning. Maybe Joe in cubicle 4 is putting a son through college, and would love to be trained to take on bigger projects so he can climb a rung on the ladder. And maybe Zoe next to him in cubicle 5 is fresh out of college with a mountain of student loan debt, and wants to develop her leadership skills and confidence so she can define a solid career path.

If you don’t know the background story of your people, and what gets them out of bed, how are you going to lead them? If you don’t know who they are, they become robots, cogs — meaningless faces. And they know it.

Every time I take on a consulting assignment, I first sit down with the team to talk about their “whys” — as founders or department heads, and as individuals. Only from there can we craft a path for them that delivers on both the company goals and their personal goals. Then they take on that work with their team members.

If they have a person who wants to develop communication skills, I’ll coach them to have that person start leading staff calls, offering course-correction as we go. Or if someone else cannot manage time, I’ll have them learn mastery over The Calendar and their issues about being told what to do (yes, that’s real).

These are simple things that can be implemented, but they convey “You matter. We have heard and recognized where you want to develop yourself, and we’ll deliver.” That creates loyalty. It creates a culture of development so people know they aren’t just there to check off your boxes — they are there to create a future for themselves.

Then you have to deliver.

2) Trust your people to do the job properly. That means you’ll have to communicate clearly.

A leader knows she doesn’t have to do it all herself. She also recognizes, however, that if something comes back done incorrectly, her instructions were not clear. Let me repeat that: If it comes back to you incorrectly, you didn’t make sure the instructions were clearly understood.

When we start owning that we’re responsible for creating the assignments of our team members in totality, and via clear communication, we can create a space of trust where they can easily ask questions and gain clarity. By focusing on these pieces, instead of the tasks themselves, you then set yourself apart from the fray, and can actually see the process. This enables you to see where the process might break, or where people might get stuck, and in the process develop your own leadership skills.

These two dynamics alone will transform a company’s culture, and its leadership. They aren’t difficult, but they take discipline and a willingness to let go of bad habits so everyone on the team can thrive.


Photo: Dean Hochman