The Manager's Dilemma

Leadership is not about the individual. And simultaneously, leadership is all about the individual. This is the paradox that repeatedly presents itself as one surveys the papers, articles, books, speeches, presentations, and courses about teamwork and leadership the world over. I experienced the struggles of dealing with this paradox most vividly during my time in Marine Corps Officer training. In the Marine Corps, as an Officer, you are taught that the two most important things in leadership are Mission Accomplishment and Troop Welfare, in that order.

A similar lesson is taught to rising leaders and management personnel in most successful organizations. The goal is to create a culture of looking after the greater good and being willing to sacrifice one’s own needs for those of the team. We have many sayings in our culture that make this same point. “There is no 'I' in team.” “It’s not about you.” “Look at the bigger picture.”

We celebrate those who deny their own wants and desires for the good of the mission and we honor and memorialize those who make the ultimate sacrifice. And rightfully so.The core value of putting the needs of others before oneself is one of the facets of human civilization that has allowed us to accomplish great things. However, the fact that this is so often the focus of our leadership education leaves the diligent student of leadership with a feeling that they can either focus on one or the other, either mission or welfare. I call this paradox, the Manager's Dilemma.

And the binary thinking that results from it is the hallmark of what I call the Manager’s Mindset.

Because mission is the priority, in the Manager's Mind, there is either the right way or the wrong way, and generally that translates to “my way or the highway.” Managers like “best practices,” and SOP’s and clearly defined boundaries. For the Manager, they resolve the dilemma of Mission vs. Welfare easily. Mission first, last, and always.

This does not come from a place of ego in most instances. I believe that most Managing Leaders have the first component of being an Empowering Leader, the Leader’s Heart. They truly want to do what’s best for their teams. They have always been the person that puts the team first and they have lived a life of doing the right thing and working hard. They know what good can happen if they can get their teams to learn those lessons as well. They are just missing the final components of being an Empowering Leader. Namely: the Leader’s Mind and the Leader’s Toolkit. I discuss these in more detail in my bestselling book, "Why Can't People Just Do Their Jobs?" (Click here if you want to get a copy)

One of the things that hinders Managing Leaders from making the transition to becoming an Empowering Leader is the fact that the Leader’s Mind and the Leader’s Toolkit are learned in very different ways than they have been taught and they require a different skill set to master. Most Managing Leader’s are graduates of the school of self-sacrifice and accomplishment. This is where they gain training necessary to acquire the Leader’s Heart. This is where they learn to discipline themselves to achieve great things. This is where they realize the first lesson in being a successful member of a team, “It’s not about you.”

They have learned to deny the desires that would sabotage their accomplishment of their goals. They have also learned to avoid mistakes that could be catastrophic to their missions. They generally did relatively well in school, either in academics, sports, or both. They continued to excel at each level as they have pursued their careers. And now, they are leading people and they are trying to get them to have the same success that they have enjoyed.

That is why they are trying to teach the same lessons they believe made them successful to those they lead. They try to be the embodiment of the idea that “Leaders Eat Last” and leaders should “Lead from the front.” Managing Leaders are normally the first ones in the office and the last to leave, regardless of whether there is actually work for them to do. They never stop to consider whether this is the most effective way for them to lead because this is what they know. They believe that they are setting the right example. They believe they are doing the right thing.

And this belief is sabotaging all of their efforts.

What they are doing is trying to lead using the Manager’s Mind and the Technician’s Toolkit. If this sounds like you, then the frustration you are experiencing is that you are trying to do a job that is beyond the scope of your current mindset and your current skill set to accomplish. This belief, and the leadership style that stems from it, are at the heart of why your people can’t do their jobs effectively.

No matter how hard you work, your people are never going to take initiative, never going to take responsibility, and will always be looking to you to determine whether they are doing the right thing. By leading from the Manager’s Mind and the Technician’s Toolkit, you have made yourself indispensable to the accomplishment of the mission. You demonstrate it all the time by how hard you work and by how you ensure that everything gets done the right way. Your people have no idea what they are capable of without you and whenever you are gone, they generally feel like things don’t run as well. You know it and they know it. You are necessary for this work to be done well. And that’s the problem.

But do not despair. It’s not your fault. If we know better, we do better. Your heart is in the right place. And there IS another way.

If you would like to know more about Empowering Leadership, how to develop the Leader's Mind, and how to acquire the Leader's Toolkit then feel free to reach out. And remember, Leaders become great, not because of their POWER, but because of how they EMPOWER others! What's your #LeadershipLegacy?

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