15 Things Leaders Can Manage
Things Leaders Can Manage (and Should)
1. Focus and Attention
You can manage what you put your attention on. You can focus strategically on where you’re going, or you can focus on short-term fires and go from crisis to crisis.
In areas where you have autonomy, you can identify your priorities. If you choose too many, they will manage you, instead of you managing them. In settings where your priorities are identified by others, your success will be determined by how well you manage them.
Time is a finite resource, but how you manage the time you have is up to you. It helps to sort what’s urgent and what’s important.
You can best manage your own expectations by finding the sweet spot between your dreams and reality. You manage other people’s expectations by communicating honestly and frequently.
We rarely have enough money for everything we need and want. So setting up a clear budget puts you in a better position to make it work. And by tracking your budget, you know early if you need to make adjustments or seek help.
You have many choices on how to get the exercise you need. It is up to you to set up and manage a healthy exercise regime.
You can manage whether you eat healthy food and how much.
You might not be able to manage whether you fall asleep, but you can manage what time you go to bed and what you do before bedtime to help yourself unwind and get ready for sleep.
You manage commitments by being careful to only make commitments you are reasonably sure you can fulfill. And if something happens that you cannot honor a commitment, you inform the people involved.
Manage stress by avoiding over-committing, not making a lot of big changes at once, and being clear about your priorities. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control that create stress. However, even in stressful situations, you can still experience joy. Learn stress reduction techniques, and if you cannot manage stress on your own, seek help from a qualified professional.
You might not be able to stop pain, but there are many things you can do to manage the level of pain you experience, from traditional to non-traditional practices and medications.
You can manage the education you need. There are many avenues available to develop the emotional intelligence and social skills necessary for effective leadership.
Trying to manage your feelings is a bad idea. When we allow our feelings to surface, they dissipate. However, there is a big difference between feeling your feelings and acting them out. What you need to manage is how you behave. Manage your reactivity to your feelings.
You can manage what comes out of your mouth, whether you listen like a successful leader, and whether you treat people respectfully.
A healthy ego is necessary for adulthood. However, if your ego is enlarged to the point that you think you deserve to be above others, it’s time for your own sake and others, to manage your ego. Narcissism does not make healthy leaders.
What Leaders Can’t Manage
You can try to influence people or motivate them. You can try to inspire them. You can invite them to join you. But you can’t manage them like you can other things.
People are not things. They have free will. You might get compliance through imposing your authority, but you will not get their commitment or full engagement. And if you push too hard, you will be met with a passive resistance that increases as your own efforts increase.
Understanding how to influence without authority is a key leadership competency. It does not work to say “Do it because I told you so.” Your ability to influence is dependent on your credibility and character, and you must earn their trust.
The most powerful and helpful thing you can do as a leader is to stop trying to manage people, and to focus your efforts on providing leadership that engages the hearts and minds of everyone on your team.
Invite your team to help create a vision of a future you all desire. If you can do that, your people will take care of managing themselves.
I agree leaders need to manage these 15 things. Arianna Huffington has written about how lack of sleep impacted her leadership and her health. Your points about managing people are thought-provoking. I will think more about that.
So glad to hear that, James. If my post provokes your thinking, then I have done my job.
I agree! Leadership is all about ‘Inspiring’ all people across all organisational, personal and community levels.
Well said. Thanks, Raymond.
I would like to get your permission to summarize this post into my blog about self-development, writen in Portuguese, mentioning the source, the link of your site and your bio. Thanks for your answer
Hi Sergio, I am happy to give you permission. My blog is translated into a number of languages.
Here are my repost and translation guidelines:
1) The article is unaltered.
2) You show my name as the author: Jesse Lyn Stoner
3) You include a link to the original post on my web site
4) You send me a link to your newsletter or a copy of it when you include a post from my blog
Thanks for the promt reply. I really appreciated it
Ahhh, those pesky humans! If we could just figure out how to be successful without them, all would be well! Or, maybe not. Your comment about inviting people to help create a vision for the future reminds me of the story of Julius Nyerere, the founder of Tanzania. His philosophy revolved around “people-centered leadership,” which calls for inviting those you lead to tell you, collectively, where they want to go and, by extension, how that direction will benefit everyone.
I’ve been working with one organization on a leadership strategy that includes some unusual research — asking their several-thousand-person workforce three simple questions: Where can we go? What, if anything, is holding us back? And, what talents set us apart?
The aim isn’t to abdicate leadership at the top; it’s to liberate the extraordinary knowledge, deep experience and diverse ideas that reside in its only irreducible asset: it’s people.
Haha! The people problem. Since people do happen to be the substance of organizations, we need rethink how we think about their role. And stop using the term “human resources” which implies people are simply another resource like furniture and supplies. Love how you put this: the aim of leadership should be “to liberate the extraordinary knowledge, deep experience and diverse ideas that reside in its only irreducible asset: it’s people.”
(ps. On using collaborative processes to create direction, you might enjoy this: How It’s Created Is as Important as What It Says) Thanks so much for deepening the conversation, Larry!
The best way to manage people is to be the leader others want to emulate and follow. Your behavior as profiled in your list of 15, is the best way to make that ‘followship’ happen.
True! “Be the leader others want to emulate and follow” Thanks for adding to the conversation, Jane
Spot on– as always. And I love the graphic! I spoke last week to over 400 executives in construction. They have all kinds of measurement tools, expectations, KRAs, etc. As I shared with them, the hardest part about their business is the softest part of their business: people. Relationships take time to develop. Soft skills — like listening, empathy, curiosity, respect, etc. are the hardest to learn. In the digital, we must remember that emoticons and email stand for escalation and error. Nothing replaces that unique human ability: real conversation. (And I am a big believer in warm handshakes or hugs when appropriate)
Measurement tools are helpful to get information and track things like progress toward goals. KRA’s are helpful for creating clear understanding and agreement on what you are focusing on. But as you point out, there is no substitute for human connection.
I’m really glad you wrote about this, Jesse. I’ve been annoyed with the title “manager” for quite some time. Most companies are pretty weak at having their managers produce intended outcomes, on time, within budget, with everyone feeling good throughout the process. There are many reasons one can find for poor management practices.
Some examples are poor training, no training and minimal positive guidance or acknowledgment. But the most fundamental reason is the one you suggest: the futility of trying to manage human beings like a boss instead of like a coach; that is, a team leader with a coach’s mindset. As you say, it isn’t easy to “manage” humans who have free will. We are barely able to manage ourselves well, even though we appear to have total control! It’s about time we gave up on that old unworkable “boss” model.
I’ve found that there’s a higher probability of success when we make an effort at being a coach-like leader instead. Many of us can imagine how a self-aware, empathetic sports or leadership coach might relate and influence his or her players. You know, the type of person who listens, collaborates and guides instead of barking orders.
Imagine being the type of coach-like leader you aspire to be. You might even test yourself out by improvising and practicing. Risk letting your people know what you’re up to and ask for their support and feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. If nothing else, you’ll learn something about yourself, and have some fun.
If you want further growth and development, find yourself a coach whose style suits you.
Go get ‘em now, Coach!
Lots of good thoughts, Lowell. Appreciate your comments about “the futility of trying to manage human beings like a boss instead of like a coach” and providing some clarity on what managing like a coach looks like. In many companies this requires a fundamental shift in how they see their role.
Hi Jesse Lyn. My take on your use of “manage” is that it’s a synonym for “control.” The point I think you’re making is that you can control yourself, but not other people; being as they are, creatures with free will (whatever that is. Do you have any research on this?).
Then you double-down with what every leadership consultant says, “The most powerful and helpful thing you can do as a leader is to stop trying to manage people, and to focus your efforts on providing leadership that engages the hearts and minds of everyone on your team.”
First, this contradicts previous posts where you’ve said that, in essence, leaders need to manage and managers need to lead… whatever that actually means.
Second, the reality is that, of course, you can manage/ control people.
(a) The rise of authoritarianism in the Western world is now well documented; think POTUS. Here many American voters actually want someone to manage/ control them more than past Presidents.
(b) Compliance (everyone is forced to do the same thing) is a typical, integral, and very real part of every workplace. It not only forms the basis of many bureaucratic policies and procedures like workplace health and safety procedures but also the more fluid ethical business practices/ codes of conduct. People need, and must, be managed. It’s not the bogeyman you portray it to be.
Third, what you’re advocating is that (using safety procedures as an example) we can’t/shouldn’t manage/force workers to follow safe work practices. Instead what we should do is engage their hearts and minds to follow safe work practices. So it’s a case of high road/ low road to get to the same place.
I’d put it to you that this framing of Leadership as “soft management” is the biggest source of cynicism and scepticism in the workplace…. and why it’s failed as a panacea for what ails the bsuiness world.
Hi Mark, I appreciate your thinking and taking the time to share your thoughts. A couple of clarifications on my own views. I disagree with Warren Bennis’ statement that “managers do things right, leaders do the right things.” It’s not about the role, it’s about the behavior. I would agree that management tends to be about doing things right, and visionary or transformational leadership is about direction and going somewhere. I tried to explore a definition in my post In Search of A Definition of Leadership and appreciated the thoughts you offered there. I do believe it is possible to control people, (e.g. through a variety of unpleasant means – manipulation, brain-washing, slavery, prison-state). I said “you can’t manage them like you can other things. People are not things. They have free will. You might get compliance through imposing your authority, but you will not get their commitment or full engagement.” Perhaps we disagree on this point, but it is not a reversal of any of my previous statements. As for processes like safety – organizations can and should set up processes and policies with clear consequences. But individuals make choices about whether they will follow them or not and face the consequences. You might think it is a fine distinction, but it has to do with one’s mindset – how you see your role as a leader. The focus of this post is challenging the idea that hierarchical, paternalistic leadership delivers the kind of engagement that visionary/ transformational leadership does. I’d like to refer you to these posts that say more on this topic: Leaders vs. Managers: The Real Answer to What’s Better which describes the results of my doctoral research and Emergent Leadership Topples the Pyramid which describes Morning Star and other successful companies that rely on self-direction and self-directed work teams. Mark, I do appreciate your thinking and especially your challenging what you do not agree with. Thank you for taking the time to share your thinking!
Perhaps, at least in smaller organizations and businesses, what we need is a term that encompasses both leader and manager responsibilities because both are necessary. Often the same folks wear dual hats. Regardless of size, however, leaders have things they must manage and managers have people they would be well served to also lead.
I have played around with these terms for awhile but am at a loss for anything that is “sticky”. Managership; Leadager; Leadmanship. I think we may need a new term altogether!
Keep thinking, Cynthia! I have not yet come across a group of people who agree on what these words mean. And yet we make assumptions that we are talking about the same thing. Thank you for adding to the conversation.
I was surprised at the responses as I expected this post to pinch a few nerves. Mark is more along the defensive response I thought would be plentiful as a response. Personally, I have always not liked this “Human Resources” and more recently “Human Capital” label. It really speaks against my values in how I perceive and value human beings. It also makes managers think and drive with a command and control mindset, rather than a more collaborative style that has buy in and is ‘owned’ by all. The polarity in opinion though is what is striking and makes for tension that most can’t debate without getting dirty. All I believe is that we all get a lot more out of it if there’s a sense of belonging, as compared to the outcome you get when there is a mentality that is all stick, rank and file where everyone “knows their place”!
Thanks, Thabo. I’m glad when I pinch some nerves. If everyone already agrees with me, there’s not much point in the effort to write a blog post. The value is in the opportunity to help people get more clear about their views – to change them or understand them more deeply – and when I have the opportunity to stretch my own views, as often happens in the comment discussion. I’m with you on the terms “human resources” and “human capital” -really dislike those terms for the reasons you list.
I could not agree more! It is true, leader cannot manage people – people are people. People tend to react in an authoritarian environment, they either fear you or resist your authority. Many organizations fall into chaos with leaders who manage through their mouths. Instead, try to lead with heart – that would be an effective motivator.
As you point out, leading with heart creates connection and trust, far better motivators. Love your description of “leaders who manage through their mouths,” opposed to leading with heart.
Thanks! More power to you.
Excellent post, Jesse. Thank you! One can only influence people as a leader. So, here is what I learned about People Leadership and wrote about it after I left my previous company,
I enjoyed your article, Sudhir. As you point out, people leave companies for many reasons, not always because of managers. Sounds like you left yours with integrity.
I’m going to have to disagree that you can manage time. You can’t manage what you can’t control, and you can’t control time. You can only live within it. You can’t manage time as it is outside of the human experience. You can only manage what you do with the time you are given each day – 1440 minutes. We do not create it, we do not affect it and we do not control it. We only create, affect and control the things we do with the time given.
That is true. As I said in my article “Time is a finite resource, but how you manage the time you have is up to you.”