A few years ago Jay Abraham, the world-renowned marketing expert, coined the phrase “people are silently begging to be led”. He didn’t mean it in a derogatory sense. His Thesis: Because there’s so much information available about any given topic, staff can be overwhelmed with data and need someone to make sense of this. The steady diet of doom and gloom in a 5+ year Irish recession means that we’ve suffered from a drip-feed of negativity (”Our grandchildren will be paying for this recession”; “If they were living in America, the people involved would be in jail”). The Result: Staff drop down the gears as the entire country becomes mildly depressed. The Cure: People look for someone they can trust to guide them forward. But they won’t just listen to anyone. They’ll follow someone whom they respect, someone who’s demonstrated an ability to make things happen. Is this person you?

 Leading Versus Doing:

At its core, the definition of managing is ‘someone who gets their work done through others’. So, the essence of your executive job is to ‘lead’, not to ‘do’.  When you are ‘doing’ (not leading) you are simply being an overpaid Engineering Director/Financial Controller/Marketing Director/HR Manager (delete as appropriate).  In reality there is a percentage of all our work lives when we need to ‘do stuff’ that cannot be avoided or delegated. But the organization ‘rule’ is as follows: as you become more senior, you should spend more time leading others. It’s called leverage –  hardly a new concept. Archimedes said:  “Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth”. While he was speaking about mathematics, the exact same point applies to management.

Do the Math:

Let’s assume that you have an executive role and work 60 hours per week. In this scenario, you have 50 people reporting into you.  The numbers are simple to calculate. You personally have 60 hours productive capacity – but are responsible for 2,000 hours each week (50 people who each work 40 hours). Your Job: Make sure that those 2,000 hours are in ‘5th gear’ – not dragging along the bottom as unproductive presenteeism. Well-exercised leadership, during your 60 hours, puts rocket fuel on the organizations performance. The Cost: Zero – you are already paying for those  hours, whether they are turbo-charged, in 2nd gear or in neutral. But while the concept of leverage is simple, sometimes the practice is a bit trickier.

Upwards Delegation:

I recently came across an example of ‘upwards delegation’ in the public sector.  In a busy, understaffed unit, people were working to tight deadlines. The manager of the unit was concerned that he would ‘stress the staff’ by putting on too much pressure. So, he threw himself into the ring and worked incredibly long hours because (some of) his staff would not shift up a gear – refusing to recognize that the game has fundamentally changed.  I suggested the following: You manage adults, not children. And adults should not be protected from the real world which, over time, has a nasty habit of intruding. Managers sometimes refuse to ‘take this on’ because they are afraid of  a kick-back from the staff.

Slavery Vs Work:

I first met Billy Attley when he was the General Secretary of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland. Billy went on to have a very successful career in the trade union movement, leading SIPTU for many years. I got to know him best when he was on the Board of the National College of Ireland.  Billy was very helpful to me personally and always good fun to be around. As a trade union official, people would come to him with various ‘war stories’ of ill treatment or poor management practices in their place of work. When he’d heard the story, and depending on the specifics, he might deploy one of his stock phrases: “I can protect you from slavery, but I can’t protect you from work”.  

You don’t have to apologize to staff to telling them to do their job. And, not in a cruel way, you may have to remind them that there is no going back to  ‘yesterday’  – even if they feel that yesterday was a warmer place to be.  The Message. Climb up out of the trenches and get back into leading. Last Friday night (May 24th) I was working late with a client covering this very topic. She said: “Oh, I get the point completely. You have to find your inner bitch!” Now, there’s a  job for you this week.