There are hands-on executives who get down and dirty in just about every aspect of a business and then there are leaders who manage from 50,000 feet, rarely calling anything but the big shots. Seldom does a single style or technique always fit every situation. Much depends on the size and maturity of a business and simply how many hands are available on deck to fight a specific fight.
In a start-up or younger organization, initially the entrepreneur probably has to do just about everything merely to survive. In a midsize or Fortune 500 operation, a good boss, depending on the quality of the team, can pick and choose the level of involvement in a project based upon the complexity, significance and sometimes just the boss’s gut feeling or inclination.
Periodically, at one time or another, most leaders miss the forest for the trees, either by not getting involved enough or by delegating too much responsibility. Then, when something goes south, the boss nitpicks his or her way into the company’s every twist and turn, driving subordinates nearly to the brink.
Either too much or too little attention is usually well intended, but unfortunately, it can cause more bad than good. Instead, as a boss, one must have a sixth sense of when and, much more importantly, how to get involved and with whom depending how near the undertaking is to getting in big trouble. This is preferable to a blanket mandate that requires an “I must see everything first before going to the next step” policy.
Like it or not, today we’re doing business in a 24/7 world and, to accomplish objectives, speed counts. We must be wary of potential bottlenecks that impede process and progress.
One of the biggest obstacles in moving from point A to B is that too many leaders are lousy delegators. Sure, they talk a good game about empowering their people and letting them run with it, but in reality, they hinder progress because they have an insatiable need to function much like an automobile engine air filter. Unfortunately, instead of helping to clean the air, they suck all of the air out of the project.
The “air filter” executive mandates that every preliminary plan, e-mail or even a simple new idea must first be passed by him or her before the undertaking can go to the next step. In a perfect world, this type of filtering might be good. However, at the speed of business today, this type of management style bogs things down or brings them to a screeching halt, as everyone waits for the “air filter” executive to get around to reviewing the latest step. The results include losing productivity, squelching creativity and derailing the initiative of those encumbered by unnecessary oversight.
When this occurs, everybody is negatively affected, including the filterer. Soon the boss who must touch everything gets overwhelmed by what has to be reviewed and, instead of maintaining control, winds up losing it.
There are simple solutions that an effective executive can employ to speed up the work. First, the boss has to be comfortable in his or her own skin about knowing how and when to follow up, intervene or let others keep the ball moving toward the goal line. It’s not just about blindly delegating, but instead knowing the skill sets of those to whom the boss delegates and everyone involved having a clear understanding of the parameters of who does what when.
Having explicit ground rules in place, the boss can give subordinates much more rope, not to hang themselves, but instead to throw the lasso much further to snag the bigger prize. This also enables the leader to have many more balls in the air, exponentially increasing the opportunities for success on many fronts and, quite simply, improving the overseer’s quality of life by providing more time for the executive to function as an executive. The subordinates win, too, because they have the authority, within prescribed boundaries, to get the job done.
Remember, good intentions aside, it gets down to the fundamentals of how an internal combustion engine functions. If an air-filtering management style clogs the workflow, it can suck the power out of your company’s engine, causing it to shut down abruptly.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
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