January 6, 2021

The One Simple Choice That Transforms Managers Into Agile, Adaptable and Human Leaders

In my years working with large organizations, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that they all seem to operate on the same currency: busyness.

In most enterprises, not only is there nothing worse than seeming to have time on your hands, it’s actually a badge of honor to be “swamped” and to have days of back-to-back meetings.

How busy you are becomes a proxy for your level of importance.

So, we schedule endless meetings, overcommit ourselves, and otherwise ensure that we don’t have a minute to breathe, let alone think.

But I’ve noticed one other thing in my years working with businesses: the most effective leaders excel at doing one thing differently.

The Big Idea: Separating the Leaders from the Managers

Managers want to feel important.

That doesn’t make them evil. It makes them human. We all have an ego, and we all want to feel important.

I remember getting my first management job — and the office that came with it. It was a highly visible sign of my importance. I was doing such important things that I sometimes needed to close my door. Ha! What a hoot. I can’t tell you a single thing of any import that happened behind my closed manager’s door all those years ago.

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Still, it’s a very natural process that we have baked into the industrial age management paradigm. So, to live up to this aura of importance, managers have to play the part. What better way to accomplish that than to ensure that we are always busy. And multiply this across the management ranks with everyone requesting meetings, and the fact that if non-managers want to someday be managers, they need to model the behavior, and well, you get the idea.

But this paradigm has outlived its usefulness.

Whereas managers are programmed to need to feel important, authentic leaders are relentlessly focused on helping their teams accomplish important things.

This simple, yet stark difference drives a fundamentally different set of behaviors.

And the most notable of these is that real leaders are not only uninterested in appearing busy, they realize that busyness is, in fact, their enemy. Instead, leaders replace this busyness with a natural rhythm and reflex to periodically pause, reflect, and, if need be, redirect.

And the crazier the situation, the more often they will do so.

The Impact: The Digital Era Demands Leadership

Why does all of this matter?

The Industrial Age was all about building and running a vast machine — one in which many of the “parts” were humans. Therefore, it demanded management. We needed a way to keep all these humans in line.

Thriving in the Digital Era demands something entirely different. It requires that you unleash creativity, empathy, imagination, and innovation — it’s all about continual transformation.

Building and running the machine is still necessary, but there is no advantage in it. Instead, competitive differentiation comes from transforming your organization into a living organism that you can guide through a continually shifting landscape.

That demands leadership.

True leaders understand that this type of continual adaptation demands the exact opposite of a relentless focus on repeatedly executing hardened and rigid processes. Instead, it demands time and space to think, and the willingness to change direction as often as that changing landscape requires.

To create that time and space to think, therefore, authentic leaders will consistently pause, reflect, and redirect.

And, if you’re wondering whether or not you’re acting like an authentic leader, this is a great litmus test.

If you’re not presently doing so, I invite you to take a moment to pause, reflect, and maybe do a little bit of redirection in your own life. It’s always a great time to do so, and you may find it transformative.

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