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Managing Yourself to Better Lead Others

By Topic: Leadership Leadership Development By Collection: Blog


Abstraction of blocks stacked diagonally

Many books have been written on the distinction between management and leadership. However you define these concepts, both are important and necessary. Both also have ever-evolving best practices, and as managers and leaders (titled or not), we must be ever-evolving. If we don’t grow, we risk becoming obsolete and unable to attract and keep an excellent workforce—a workforce that is also constantly changing.

Management may not be as “exciting” as leadership, but without good management, chaos reigns. We need both to be successful at our change efforts. If you have ever followed a leader who lacked management resources and skills, it may have felt as if you were taking flight without wings and fuel, flight plan or clear destination. Working for a manager without leadership abilities feels like you are never allowed to get off the tarmac, because you are so bogged down by the details and “what ifs” and waiting for 100% certainty. There is a natural tension between leadership and management. When we get the balance right, it is like nature’s elements of earth, fire, water and air, all sustaining life (versus earthquakes, raging fires, floods and cyclones that destroy).

Start by considering how effectively you are managing you. Before you can manage a group of people, you must first look at your own projects and workload. If you are too frequently overwhelmed, missing deadlines or can’t find what you are looking for, it’s time to put some systems in place for yourself. Some simple time and energy management techniques can help:

  • Know your peak time. Figure out when you do your best work and schedule your most mentally challenging tasks during that time.
  • Unapologetically build in planning time. If you don’t have structured planning time on your calendar, start with a regular half hour on the first and last day of your workweek for big-picture plans and just a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day for today’s and tomorrow’s plans. Be unapologetic in claiming time for this, even in the face of demands from others. When we move from individual contributor to manager, planning feels like we are not “producing,” and many managers are not comfortable with this. Planning effectively is a task of a manager. Claim it and put it on your list. Not only is it important to spend dedicated planning time, but also you model for others that this is a valued practice you support for them as well.
  • Limit meetings to 45 minutes. Shorter is fine, too. If you typically schedule one-hour meetings, back-to-back, after the first hour you are running late all day. If meeting times are not your call, ask for organizational support for this idea to give everyone time to recalibrate between meetings (the asking shows leadership). This allows for physical health benefits, too: We move, we get to go to the restroom, get a glass of water—all things that we sacrifice when we run late.

Get familiar with key data points about your work. Data is your friend, even if you are not a numbers person—actually, especially if you are not a numbers person. What are the major drivers of success for your projects and staff? Once your leadership vision defines where you are headed, identify the top two or three numbers that will tell you if you are on the right track. If you learn and know the top two or three numbers, you can make course corrections faster, and you will be paying attention to the most important things when time is limited.

Establish rituals. Much like families in chaos, having something that you can count on in times of change can build resilience by managing what you can manage. Some teams have a structured “huddle” at the start of the day to connect actions to purpose. Great teams build in and commit to regular recognition of each other at the beginning of every team meeting as a way of actively creating a culture of appreciation. What rituals can you build into your work that will help you manage yourself and your team?


Editor’s Note: This blog was excerpted directly from the book Lead the Way in Five Minutes a Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston, workforce and organizational development senior manager, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative. For more leadership tips, get your copy today.