People want to be better leaders—but they just don’t have the time. That’s the dilemma managers face, according to Blanchard senior consulting partner Ann Phillips. In the July issue of Ignite, Phillips explains that the lack of time kills many good intentions.
“Once managers realize they’re supposed to maintain their own workload, coaching and support quickly gives way to ‘Here’s the assignment. Do your best. You’ll be fine. I figured it out when I was in your position—I’m sure you will, too.’”
But when managers don’t take time to connect with direct reports other than issuing orders, the result is work that proceeds slowly and often needs to be redone. By the time its gets to that point, the relationship is already strained. The manager is annoyed at the lack of progress; the direct report asks “Why you didn’t you tell me this in the first place?’ and the manager reacts defensively, saying ‘I thought you knew.”
Phillips’s advice is to not let the situation go that far. Spend a little time up front discussing the person’s skills and their development level on the task you’re asking them to do.
“If they are a beginner, prepare to provide a lot of direction. If they are more experienced, it can be a combination of direction and support. And if they are very well versed in the task, a delegating style is completely appropriate.”
For time-starved managers , Phillips recommends short, regular meetings that are well organized and focused.
“Always start your conversations within the context of what the goals are. Are they clear? What are the shared expectations around those goals? Next, identify the direct report’s capability and commitment to the task. Identify where the person is in terms of development level. What is their ability to do the task? Have they ever done it before? What is your confidence level with them succeeding at the task? This where you begin to surface their feelings around confidence and competence.
“Leaders can build on that when they discuss what they need to provide to make sure the direct report has the direction and resources to move forward.”
One caveat to leaders—be on guard. Phillips says direct reports tend to overcommit or overestimate their ability to get things done.
“People want to project that they are confident and competent and can get things done. They sometimes don’t think things through in a logical way, which can lead to them agreeing to do something when, in fact, they have no experience.
“People also want to be perceived as highly skilled. It’s rare that someone will say, ‘I don’t know how to do that,’ or ‘I’m going to need extra time to learn how to do that.’ As leaders, we need to make it safe for our direct reports to tell us when they don’t know how to do something.”
Phillips reminds us that surfacing concerns and determining skill levels ahead of time can save a lot of trouble and heartache down the road. “If you don’t take the time now, you’ll be taking the time later, and under more difficult emotional circumstances.”
Make the best use of that time. It may take some effort, but in the long run time saved is something we could all use.
Interested in learning more? Join Phillips for a complimentary webinar, Finding the Time to Manage: 3 Key Skills, on July 27. The event is free, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.