Finding a leadership and management balance

Balancing leadership through management is critical.


John SuzukidaWhen you’re asked to take a supervisory position at any level, finding the right balance when interacting with those for whom you are responsible is a constant challenge. How do you manage without “micromanaging”? How do you promote your team members’ motivation and ownership of tasks, yet maintain awareness of what is going on? The answer is not black-and-white, so let’s look at some practical ways to strike a balance to be effective.

One great way of looking at leadership is to observe others, both those you consider good leaders and those you consider poor ones. Do others follow these leaders because they want to rather than because they have to? If you were in a war, would you put your life on the line and follow these people into battle? If the answer to those questions is yes, why do you and others feel that way? If the answer is no, the same question applies but obviously results in a different answer.

Leadership is often strongest when people intuitively sense that leader has the broader organization in mind over his or her personal agenda. People feel “protected” or that the leader “has their back,” giving them courage and comfort to do what needs to be done and not try to satisfy internal politics as the primary driver.

While leadership is inspirational, balancing it through management is critical. That means doing “mundane” activities like following up, holding people accountable for commitments, monitoring how things are really going, having regular communication, and so on.

Consider these four tasks:

1. Leading: Creating an environment in which others are compelled to follow (see the story in the last paragraph)

2. Managing: Monitoring, overseeing the many tactical actions in all our workplaces

3. Delegating: Handing off an assignment, following up to ensure it was done and done correctly

4. Abdicating: Handing off an assignment, not following up to see if and how it was done.

An effective leadership style employs enough management tools to allow you to monitor what’s going on, without micromanaging. For example, consider limiting project review meetings to 5-minute summaries whose purpose is not for the presenter to go into excruciating detail but for you to find problems that need your time after the review. Think about using a standard format focusing on cost and schedule compared to the original plan, the last review, and current status in addition to any barriers the project is encountering.

Supervising people at any level requires a balance between knowing what they’re doing and doing it yourself. It’s easy to micromanage without realizing it, but it should be avoided because it can destroy people’s pride in their work. It’s also easy to delegate a task so that it’s out of sight, out of mind. Not following up on or not appropriately monitoring delegated work is called abdicating.

One particularly great leader for whom I had the privilege to work told me that I was being too conservative as a first-time manager, that he wanted me to take on more risk. He suggested that after I had taken a risk and found I’d made a big mistake—not a small one but a really big one—to walk into his office and tell him about it. He said, “I’ll be the first to shake your hand and congratulate you that you’re taking more risk for the good of the business.” Imagine the release from the fear of making mistakes when your boss makes that kind of statement. That is leadership.

John Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on energy efficiency, product-to-solutions transitions, and strategy. He has facilitated meetings for the West Coast Zero Net Energy Coordinating Council, Daikin, Danfoss, and the National Conference on Building Commissioning, and has written articles for industry publications. He was a presenter at the 2012 Career Smart Engineers Conference

Mark , IA, United States, 02/07/13 01:04 PM:

John Suzukida:

Great insights - I particularly like the comments on risk engagement. It would be tremendous if more companies would truly reward risk rather than desiring and approving risk only to disincentive it by only rewarding it if successful. My experience has been many companies harshly penalize risk taking if it results in anything less than meeting established goals. The ideal would be embracing risk with the willingness to accept and reward marginal outcomes if they result in significant insight and understanding.
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