Don’t Confuse Helpful Leadership With Doing The Work
One of the reasons leaders struggle with time and priority management is that they are too entangled in helping their teams solve problems. This isn’t necessarily the result of poor delegation. Frequently it’s an issue of leaders offering support and becoming too much of a safety net. Sometimes it helps leaders feel good about their contributions and being that much more valuable. Other times it’s a strong desire to influence how a particular issue is handled. When it happens a lot it can be a slippery slope. Before you know it, you are getting sucked into more issues than you’d like, your teams aren’t handling what they should be on their own, and the leader has become the bottleneck in the process. I know you’ve seen this happen.
Being a resource and an advisor to your team is extremely important. But if your team members have an overreliance on you, as their manager, to answer their questions and move projects across the finish line, you may have a problem. Here’s how you can focus your leadership to productively address the issue and create a high-performance team:
- Work with your teams on defining what success looks like for any given initiative or project. A primary responsibility of leaders is to define the work to be done.
- Give plenty of flexibility in “how” they address problems or issues, while you stay focused on “what” they need to accomplish.
- Define the boundaries or parameters for them to operate within (especially non-negotiables and financial considerations). Structure is critical.
- Pay close attention to resource constraints and their implications. Make sure you understand how they affect a team’s ability to produce. Reality always wins so your expectations can’t blind you.
- Coach your leaders on the behaviors you want to see more of or less of. Reminder: coaching is a collaborative effort aimed at improving someone’s ability to perform, and rarely includes lecturing, directing, or insisting.
Years ago, an article on this topic titled with the clever phrase: “who’s got the monkey?” The gist is that, in an effort to be helpful, leaders can instead subliminally permit their team members to transfer the ownership and responsibility of a current project back upon the boss. It’s a negative double-whammy because it adds work to your plate, removes work from the team, and creates a bottleneck.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry but don’t wait either. Use some discipline and structure with the approaches above to get back to the modus operandi where your team is less reliant on you to actually do their work.
How Selling Got Easier During The Pandemic
Yes, I said how selling got easier. Meaning, there are ways that the pandemic made selling easier. This does not discount the many ways the pandemic made selling harder, but you don’t need me to tell you that. I was interviewed recently for an article on this very topic for a magazine called remote report, a new publication for “news and insights on the business of remote work.” (I am now sure there is a magazine for everything.)
If I were to sum up my view about what has gotten potentially easier in sales due to the pandemic, I’d use this word: Access:
Access to subject matter experts. Bringing in experts to help in early-stage diagnostic conversations, share insights and expertise on how other companies address similar issues, offer technical considerations that clients may not have anticipated on their own, and provide advice on product improvements, and more, has never been easier (or cheaper).
Access to decision-makers. Thanks to video conferencing, it’s easier to get the right client representatives (those who have the appropriate authority and role) in the (virtual) room. Regardless of the prospect’s ultimate decision, working with the decision-maker is more time effective and sets both parties up for success.
Access to seller-side executives. The age-old technique of “bringing in the big guns” is still effective for demonstrating commitment to the deal. During the pandemic, executives have had more time to connect with prospective clients and participate in pitches.
Here are some of my quotations from the article, which you can find in its entirety here:
“’The pandemic is really the water that found the cracks in the dam,’ [Edinger] said. Before the pandemic, ‘companies could get by with great products and services alone. It’s not enough anymore.’ He believes the sales experience must be primary in a company’s thinking, and that it can be beneficial to both the client and the seller, helping to shape customer expectations and create opportunities for the seller.”
“Businesses are not seizing the opportunity the pandemic presents if they are simply making more calls or doing more Zoom meetings than before, [Edinger] adds. Instead, it is an opportunity to ‘rethink [the sales experience] from the initial contact to contract. Where’s the value, where’s the insight … and how do we use our resources … to help the customer see things they hadn’t seen?’ Edinger noted.”
Leaders have been through the ringer in the last 14 months. Some have fared better than others, but anyone who says managing a team through the pandemic wasn’t hard – is lying. Now, with sights set on a brighter horizon, I am recommending this article that articulates the challenges in front of leaders in the late stage of the pandemic and beyond. I appreciated the use of the term “paradoxical challenges” – there’s no sugarcoating that what’s ahead will also be uniquely hard for leaders, but in ways we are more equipped than ever before to manage.