Over the years, I’ve amassed a fair amount of information about what managers need to start and stop doing in order to be at their best as leaders. This information has been gathered through conversations (interviews) with bosses, peers, and direct reports of the managers both at the beginning of a coaching engagement and toward the end (to measure progress).
This information can be consolidated into general “themes” which might say a lot about what stakeholders want from managers. These themes are prevalent with managers in small and large companies of all kinds, and at all levels within those companies:
1. Stop doing work others should do and start letting them do it. Most managers I’ve worked with have room to do more delegating. Their employees get frustrated because they are fully capable of doing the work the manager is doing. When the manager and I talk about their need to delegate, I often hear that they fear cutting the cord, believing that things won’t be done “right” (translation: things won’t be done their way). This is about control, which only serves the manager and not the organization.
My thoughts: If you’re not delegating enough, you aren’t realizing the wealth of untapped potential in your employees who are anxious to be autonomous and be challenged! If it’s true that if you believe your employees aren’t capable of doing the work they are meant to do, then you should fire them and start over with employees you can believe in. By the way, if you haven’t noticed yet, you’re burning yourself out while doing too much!
2. Stop ignoring key relationships and start nurturing them. Almost all managers need to set a priority to develop important relationships with stakeholders who will help them and their organization to become successful and sustainable. When smart managers and I talk about this, they often say they don’t have time to work on relationships at work. There is no leadership without relating to others so put relationships at the top of your priority list.
My thoughts: The chances that you’ll fail because you’re too smart are small. But the chances you’ll be successful by nurturing key relationships is great. Your brain-smarts will only go so far in an organization. As you work your way up the leadership ladder, it’s absolutely essential to make sure that you develop and nurture key relationships. Many leaders find that it works to identify their important stakeholders and schedule regular meetings with them.
3. Stop talking so much and start listening more. Over-talking and failing to listen to others might appear to be a minor indiscretion on the part of a manager. In the end, failing to listen to others and really hear them results in problems all the way from strained relationships to ethical breaches to failure of an important initiative. All this can happen because a manager feels like they have to be heard but are unwilling to listen to others.
My thoughts: The kind of listening that you need to cultivate requires you to be fully present, to shut off the judging chatter and waiting for your turn to speak. This is the kind of deep listening where you stop talking and open your ears and your heart to hear others in a way that promotes understanding and learning. It’s harder and more important than you might think.
4. Stop being tactical and start broadening your scope. When you’re in a position that requires you to become more visionary, staying tactical bores your manager, employees, and others who have your career in their hands. It will keep your organization from being everything it can be. When you broaden your sights, your organization can exceed its goals and expectations (and you just might be seen as promotable).
My thoughts: You can’t fully lead until you’ve mastered this, and it is often aligned with my first point above. When you stop doing the tactical, day-to-day work and allow your team to step up, you leave room in your brain to think bigger, more strategically, and to develop and realize a vision.
If you’re pondering what your developmental opportunities for the year might be, take a look at these four things, find one that resonates with you, set some goals, and take action.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.
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