‘Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing.’ So said Warren Bennis over 20 years ago, but micromanaging is still one of the most common bad habits of business owners today. That is, getting bogged down in the day-to-day operations of their company, when they should be focusing on growing their business. I talked to John Raftery about leadership skills and how great business leaders avoid micromanagement in order to create the right environment to grow their companies.
Why do some leaders end up managing instead of leading their companies?
If you look at the evolution of businesses, particularly in the SME sector, what you find is that when people start off a business they take on a lot of the roles themselves in terms of sales, deliveries and operations and so on. As the company grows that’s fine, it works for a while, and they bring in more people. They continue on as they were, but eventually the business begins to plateau. The potential of the business isn’t realised, because they are now doing more and more and running around dealing with the day to day stuff.
So when they reach this plateau this is the critical point for them to move on to really try to grow the business. They have to put the systems and processes in place to help them move to the next level. The biggest thing that prevents people from doing this is that they are not very good at delegating, and also they don’t have enough trust in the people that work for them. And even if they do trust them they haven’t got the systems in place that can actually monitor and measure the effectiveness of their management team.
Leaders need to focus on growing the business, but what does that mean in practice?
For a lot of people I come across the big frustration is they don’t spend enough time meeting their customers, finding out what they want and developing new products and services. In order to grow the business, that’s where they need to focus their attention and spend their time.
Usually they spend their time playing catch-up, or making sure the day-to-day stuff is getting done adequately. Then there’s no time left at the end of the day to address the potential that could create the growth for them. Like spending time with customers, developing new products and services, meeting new people and getting ideas, and spending time looking back at the team who are running the business day-to-day. Figuring out how well they are performing, what their issues are and trying to come up with solutions that they can implement.
It’s a skill that a lot of business owners don’t have, they might be good in some areas but they are weak in other areas. And the weaknesses trip them up. No business leader is good in every area, if you really want to be a good business leader you need to identify what areas you are weak in, and then identify people who can support you in that area and get them to work with you.
So the leaders true skill is the ability to delegate?
Yes…and driving innovation and growth. The leader’s vision is about the future and trying to achieve some vision they have for themselves and their business. Delegation is an important part of it, because in order to achieve what they need to achieve they have to bring people with them, they can’t do it on their own.
It’s also about communicating exactly what they require, it’s about having the discipline to follow through, it’s picking the right people, it’s a whole series of boxes that need to be ticked to achieve what you want to achieve. But essentially it’s about getting other people to use their energy to help you to achieve your vision and that’s the skill. Having the vision is one thing but being able to implement it and realise it is another thing. And that’s the difference between management and leadership.
It sounds like leadership requires a lot of trust?
Well trust and integrity are vital ingredients for any leader. I think we can all agree on that. If a leader loses integrity and people lose trust in him or her, then they have no role. And trust is simple to build. Essentially it’s doing what you say you are going to do. And people have huge sensitivity, they’re antenna is out all the time, and they are watching how leaders perform every minute of the day. And if at any stage what they say and what they do is not congruent people spot it immediately.
Trust is vital in a leader, but likewise leaders have to be able to trust the team to deliver. That trust is built up through a steady performance of delivery, through mechanisms that can monitor what their inputs are, how accountable they are and how effective they are. If all those boxes are ticked then the leader becomes more trusting of the management team, and stays out of the micromanagement that some leaders get involved with. So there is this continued tension between letting the management team get on with it, and at the same time observing and monitoring what they are doing as well, so it’s a fine line.
Micromanaging can damage that trust?
If a management team feel they are being micromanaged by the leader, it undermines their confidence in themselves and in the leader as well. It can be very detrimental. So trust is easy to say but it’s hard to achieve it, because it’s not something that can be measured with a slide rule, and say ‘this is the level of trust that has been achieved.’
It’s about people’s views and opinions and some people find it difficult to articulate what the levels of trust are. Or what the factors are that undermine trust, but it’s evident to us who come in externally, and have experience of looking at effective leadership and management team performance. You can pick up on it fairly quickly if you have enough experience and you know what you’re looking for.