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How to be an Excellent Leader Not a Shortsighted Jerk

December 14, 2016  Min to Reads

get-yourleadership-focus-rightI was recently speaking with a leader about various topics related to managing self and managing teams. The conversation started out on the topic of time management and prioritizing our work. What emails do you read and which ones do you let slip by? What projects do you pay attention to today and which ones do you set aside and perhaps never take up again? This led us to a practice that I find helpful. The practice is to write down your three top priorities to focus on every day and rank everything else behind them. Immediately he put me on the spot and asked: “what are your three top priorities every day.” My response:

  • Making advances on a special project that I currently manage
  • Managing the priorities and work of my team
  • Working on my self-development and growth as a leader

The Neglected Priority – People Development

That’s when he stopped me and suggested that, like many managers, I was missing one top priority: developing people. He said he believes that developing people is the most important job of a manager. If you are a manager and you are not developing people, then you are not doing your job. I can’t disagree. Leadership is first about people and so a leader’s top priority should be people. The difficulty is with all the pressing priorities demanding the leader’s time. There are reports to file, problems to solve, strategies to design and put in place, and emails to write. The list goes on and on.

So, how does a manager make people development a top priority and get everything else done as well? The first answer is simple. She doesn’t. A strong manager will find ways to drop some of those attention grabbing responsibilities. She will either delegate them to someone else or say, “No, we don’t need to do this, so we won’t do it.” The second way is to  make coaching a simple habit for everyday work.

The Coaching Habit

Coaching is all about people. Its ultimate purpose is to help people get better at their jobs, grow in their skills, and become successful. But for most managers just thinking about coaching drains energy. “Coaching takes planning, patience, and a lot of time. It slows me down and takes me away from critical tasks. It’s too hard to explain to people how to do things in a way that they get it and remember it. It feels like I’m always re-coaching. Ugh, I can’t do it!” Those are some of the thoughts that go through the minds of many managers, but they rest on a faulty definition of coaching. That’s where the book “The Coaching Habit – Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever” by Michael Bungay Stanier comes in.

Stanier understands the faulty view of coaching and thus, your reluctance to coach. That’s why he has developed a coaching system for busy managers. He describes it as simple and effective and something you can do in 10 minutes or less. The subtitle reveals the heart of his system – Say Less and Ask More. Coaching isn’t about the wisdom you impart, it is about the wisdom you help others uncover. You help them discover this wisdom by asking different types of questions.

The Pressure is Off

I’ve been using Stanier’s questions more often in my coaching interactions, and I find that they open people up and take pressure off of me. Without them, I’m under pressure to come up with answers to problems, give stunning advice, and be the source of all knowledge. Just thinking that I can do this smacks of pride and is unrealistic. In fact, it’s ridiculous. What is even more ridiculous is thinking that the advice I pass along will stick with someone for any lasting amount of time. Let’s face it, when we give advice, we are the only ones who think it is brilliant. When we help people discover their own answers, they believe they are brilliant. As a result, they will own the advice and live by it.

So, because I know you want to be a great leader, I want you to buy “The Coaching Habit,” read it, and start saying less and asking more. Let me know how it goes by sending me an email or leaving a comment on the blog page.

[note style=”info” show_icon=”true”]Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”[/note]

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  1. Thanks for this, Mark. Reminds me of a mentor who said “I never give others advice. Instead, I help them consider options.”

    Love the top 3 task categories idea too. Getting to work on that now!

    Great post!

    1. Mark, glad you got some good from the article. The top three task approach has gotten me back on track so many times when I’m feeling overwhelmed with too much to do.

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