The Best Managers Don’t Always Lead From The Front

“Where did they go? Which way were they headed? I must find them… I am their leader.”

I was coaching a manager recently who was struggling with a production issue. I asked if he could get advice from his team but he said, “They’d expect me to know. I’m the boss.”

Later, the conversation turned to his CEO. The company was expanding and he was frustrated that the CEO was doing all the planning. I asked how he’d feel if his boss did ask his opinion, “I’d respect him more. I’d feel like he wasn’t making decisions in a bubble”.

Lead where its needed.
Sometimes leadership is about tapping into resources you may not even know you have, then managing that information to make a cohesive recommendation.

1. Trust the wisdom on the shop floor
Maverick! Is a brilliant book by Ricardo Semler about using the knowledge of the people who work for you. His Brazilian manufacturing business struggled with having the right parts in the right quantities. They didn’t have room or money to overstock, but when they ran out of a single nut or bolt, everything ground to a halt. The people doing the estimates in the office couldn’t resolve the problem, so he asked the people who worked on the assembly lines. They came up with a simple system that involved everyone in taking responsibility to flip a red tag over when supplies ran low, indicating the order needed to be placed that day.

You can lead by tapping into your staff’s knowledge of the work they do every day. Trust them to make recommendations and give them the authority to manage their tasks.

2. The Cheer Leader
You can also lead by celebrating success. Take time out to recognize the group or individuals that have done really well. When people feel valued and acknowledged, they’re proud to have caught your attention, and will work hard to repeat the experience.

3. Share the information
Traditional leadership often meant that management were the only people who understood the direction the company was headed. Leading behind the scenes means helping everyone understand how their job fits into the big picture, why it’s important and how it helps the company hit its goals. Sharing information garners respect and gives a purpose and prospective to the jobs people do everyday.

4. Put yourself in their shoes
Undercover Boss is a programme about CEOs that go back to work in support roles, to see what it’s really like to work for their own company. They are endlessly shocked (well it is television) to discover that people need equipment, resources, training or support. It’s much simpler, and doesn’t require a wig, to ask your staff what they need, then follow up with what’s possible and when they can expect it. They’ll love you for caring and will do better work with the right things in place.

Great managers manage people, not projects. They have the vision to know where they’re headed and the knowledge that they will only get there if the whole team pulls the same direction. Sometimes that means pulling from the front and sometimes it means jumping in further back. Surprisingly, further back may be the place you build your authority and respect the quickest.

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