For every individual who feels they are being micro-managed there will be someone who feels they are not getting enough support
If you ask anyone who is being micro-managed to share their thoughts on their manager, you’d better be prepared for their exasperation, according to Nigel Adams, author of Match Fit For Transformation – Realising The Potential Of Everyday Heroes.
Adams said that in an era of rapid change, where the rule book has been thrown out of the window, new industries, business models and ways of working are emerging that are impacting every aspect of our lives, employees expect something a little more forward looking than pointing out the typo on page four.
“Perhaps not unsurprisingly, much weight has been placed on hiring and developing visionary leaders to combat this issue,” said Adams.
“However, ask any team in fire-fighting mode at work about what it’s like working for a visionary leader and you’ll get a similar outburst.
The distinction between leadership and management has been the subject of much debate and research.
One of the most cited papers dates back to 1977 where Zaleznik argued that managers seek to control, leaders seek to inspire – the former favouring structure, processes and stability, the latter thriving in more chaotic environments and embracing creativity.
According to Adams, the issue is situational and contractual:
There are times when it is appropriate to paint a picture of the future and then inspire your team to follow you there.
You set the scene, provide a framework and broad direction and then encourage each member of the team to unleash their full potential, through collaboration and striving for an optimistic future (think JFK and the Apollo program).
There are also times where more direct, prescriptive intervention is required, particularly in times of crisis. This may be an intervention that acts as a catalyst to get the team back on track after floundering for several days or weeks or it may be a direct involvement to address a deeper, possibly life-threatening event or significant damage to an organisation’s reputation and performance.
Leadership here is about the time horizon the situation demands. The first case is future-focused and encouraging people to believe that it’s ok to think big and realise bold dreams.
The second case is about taking control i.e. managing a situation to provide clarity in the immediate short term (think Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister responding to the Christchurch mosque shootings). I don’t recall anybody focusing on Ardern’s management skills at the time, but there was an abundance of praise for her leadership.
The second issue relates to the contract between an individual and an organisation. The organisation pins its future success on leveraging the skills and talents of the people it employs.
In return, the individual is rewarded financially and provided development and social opportunities. The trick for a people leader is to enable each individual to fulfil their career aspirations in a way that enables the organisations to achieve its goals.
The joy, and at times, frustration of leading and managing people is that they are all different and it is understanding these individual differences and how each person will respond to different styles of leadership and management that will give the people leader the greatest chance of success.
Adopting a “one size fits all” approach to running your team will create problems.
For every individual who feels they are being micro-managed there will be someone who feels they are not getting enough support.
For every individual who feels inspired by the vision there will be those for whom it is not aspirational enough. The trick for the LeaderManager is to adapt their style to each individual.
For those who thrive in taking accountability and “getting on with it”, set the framework and get out of the way. For those who like to discuss options and share their thinking, as much as possible, create the time and space to support them.
For those for whom the future means next month, break the vision down into shorter-term, more tangible steps. For those with a more forward-looking perspective, encourage them to shape and give form to that vision of the future.
Easy to say, devilishly difficult to put into practice, but amazingly rewarding when you see your people grow and your team achieve its goals.