Hands on leadership
Like great coaching, great leadership is hands on.(Photo iStock) Like great coaching, great leadership is hands on.(Photo iStock)
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
To paraphrase convicted felon Martha Stewart, micromanaging is a bad thing.
The dictionary confirms that. Micromanage (noun, origin: 1985-1990) means to direct or control in a detailed, often meddlesome manner.
That doesn’t sound nice--or empowering. And empowering is a good thing. Just ask all the leadership gurus and the ubiquitous self-help movement.
I don’t want to be a spoil sport here, but maybe the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction of micromanaging. The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, who’s been dead a long time, wasn’t very good looking or a star athlete--and still has his own Wikipedia page--thought that happened a lot: ″Opinion is like a pendulum and obeys the same law. If it goes past the centre of gravity on one side, it must go a like distance on the other; and it is only after a certain time that it finds the true point at which it can remain at rest.″
The fear of micromanaging has driven the pendulum too far to under -managing. We need to find a middle ground, because as I wrote in Anemic Leadership, there’s an epidemic of under-management with disastrous consequences.
Moreover, a lot of the empowerment that’s supposed to come from hands-off management isn’t real. Are we really empowering officers and staff by giving them responsibilities without sufficient direction?
Here are a couple of case studies that demonstrate the difference between micro-managing and under-managing.
- Case One: The officer must check with the patrol sergeant every step of the way before making basic decisions or taking simple actions.
Is this micro-management? Not necessarily. If the officer is unable to make basic decisions or take simple actions on his own, it may just as likely be because the patrol sergeant has under - managed by not preparing the officer to do so. Someone has to tell officers, "If A happens, do B. If C happens, do D. If E happens, do F." Officers need to be told what to do and at least one good way to do it.
- Case Two: An officer messes up and the Patrol Sergeant swoops in to solve the problem, cleans up the mess, and gets things back on track. Micromanagement? No. The patrol sergeant is doing no managing. Instead, the sergeant has taken over the role of the officer and is doing the task firsthand.
It’s Okay to Be the Boss
As long as you’re a great boss. Great bosses aren’t ″hands off.″ How can we expect officers and staff to be engaged (another leadership term currently in vogue) if their bosses aren’t engaged? Great bosses are engaged--with their officers and staff, with the work being done and the work yet to be done.
The cure for anemic leadership (aka under-managing) is being “hands on.” If you’re a real leader, people are counting on you to help them succeed--and not by giving them responsibilities with no directions.
What does a great, engaged, ″hands on″ boss do? Bruce Tulgan provided a working model in his book It’s Okay to Be the Boss: The Step-By-Step to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need. An engaged, hands on boss:
- Is highly knowledgeable about the officers she supervises and the work they do;
- Is up-to-speed on the key details of their tasks and responsibilities;
- Monitors changes in each officer’s workload, pace, challenges and corresponding needs;
- Knows when to increase guidance and when to back off;
- Knows when to increase pressure and when to take it off; and
- Knows enough about each officer to set ambitious goals and deadlines, troubleshoot, bring in additional resources or change direction.
Schedule and carry out regular meetings with every officer. Ideally, these would be brief, daily sessions. At the least, they should be weekly. Every conversation will be different but here’s a guide:
- Review progress from the last meeting.
- Ask for updates and a report on the officer’s progress on each item.
- Give feedback on the officer’s progress.
- Give guidance such as goals, deadlines and parameters.
- If needed, remind the officer about SOPs and performance requirements.
- If merited, give special recognition or rewards.
- Ask for questions or clarifications
- Ask if the officer understands.
You may not like this, but being the boss isn’t about being happy and having fun; it’s about leading.
Law enforcement supervisors are particularly well-versed in this discipline from their experience maintaining field notes. Unlike field notes, focus on performance--not personal observations.
Written notes help the engaged, hands-on supervisor to clarify expectations and create an added source of accountability. They serve as documentation in the case of disputes. And they support your championing and rewarding success or dealing with failure.
It’s Even Better to Be a Powerful Boss
Many bosses want to be seen as a good guy. You’re not being a good guy by refusing to acknowledge your authority and accepting the responsibility that goes with it.
Failing to provide clear, focused leadership isn’t being a good guy--it’s taking the easy way out. Easy, that is, until you find yourself spending time solving problems that could’ve been avoided by leading up front.
In the words of Bruce Tulgan, ″Be a real good guy: Be powerful. Provide direction, guidance and support. Help each person call forth his/her greatness. Hold every person accountable. Do more for people
… one person at a time, one day at a time.″