One of the biggest challenges that I have seen and one I struggle with regularly myself is getting the balance right between managing and doing productive work. In modern Western Work Culture, we want the leader to be on the team. It seems like the coach on the sideline is no longer a metaphor for good leadership. This can create a real problem for many leaders because you have to focus in two places at once. As Ray Dalio put it in Principles, do you focus on the machine, or in the machine?
This article is the fourth in a series that relate to the 8 skills of successful managers. For references the skills are:
- Be a Good Coach
- Does Not Micromanage
- Cares about the Individual
- Productive and Results Driven
- Listens and Shares
- Helps with Career Development
- Clear Vision & Strategy
- Technically Competent
What we want to dig into today, is how to be productive and results driven without losing sight of the fact that you also need to manage the team.
It’s easy to lose sight of what is important
Most people come to a leadership position because they are highly productive. As fantastic individual contributors, they build a skill set that allows them to produce at a high level. As a result, many managers learn to lean on their own productivity when times get tough. This can lead to an imbalance where you are productive but the team is not. American companies often have a real problem with this because they tend to focus exclusively on productivity. But the great skill of a manager is not only to be productive but to be results-driven.
The reason it is easy to lose sight on what is important is that being productive can overshadow being results driven — not for yourself, but for your team. You see, the job of the manager is to make the TEAM productive, and to facilitate the team producing results. When managers focus too much on their own productivity — a completely natural tendency as we tend to lean on our strengths in times of stress, and it was our own productivity which earned the respect of our peers and management — you can lose sight of the team.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs where the specter of failure can be right in their face. The emotional need to be in control of everything can cut many business owners off from getting the help they need to grow their business.
What we overlook
I should point out, no matter how obvious it is, that people do not want to work for a capricious boss who is engaged in a popularity contest. They want to know how score is kept and what the rules are. Understanding that this is rooted in transparency gives a clue as to the thing businesses most often overlook when they focus on promotion.
We overlook trustworthiness. In his book, The Infinite Game Simon Sinek relates this story from the Marines, which he argues is one of the highest performing teams in the world. He points out that they have two dimensions of leadership. One is performance, the other is trustworthiness.
Performance is easy to measure because it is objective. Trustworthiness is often harder to wrap our head around, but it is actually really easy to track — just ask the team. Sinek put it this way:
It is easy to identify and remove low-performing, low-trust individuals. High-performing, high-trust individuals are also easy to remove. Back in the day, at Motorola, we had a similar graph. Instead of trust, we used values. Low-performing doesn’t share our values? Gone. High-performing embodies the company values? Promote. It is the diagonals which are interesting.
High-performing individuals, who cannot be trusted? They are toxic and need to go. They will undermine the performance of the entire team and the organization. More valuable surprisingly are middle performers with high trust, and even in some situations (relatively) low performers with high trust.
At Motorola, they saw a similar impact. High performing, low integrity individuals were a liability, whereas high integrity individuals with average to medium performance could be the foundation for an excellent high performing team.
Sinek says the Marines phrased it this way: “I can trust you with my life, but what about my wallet and my wife?” He also points out that virtually every team knows who these people are. In any team, he says it is easy to find the low-trust individual. Simply ask, “Who’s the asshole?” And nearly everyone knows. Likewise, if you ask people, who has your back? Who can you count on? The same group can usually point to an often quiet, unassuming leader who may not be the top performer (and often isn’t), but who holds the trust of her peers.
It is about progress
Being productive and results-driven is not so much about individual productivity for the leader as it is about cultivating a high trust environment where people are not afraid to do their best work. People need to know their work will not be usurped by the leader or credited to someone else. It is about making sure that everyone knows how the score is kept, and that it is kept fairly. To understand how universal this feeling is, think about the many controversies caused by referees across all sports. In American football, we have invested enormous energy in replay, and creating ever more layer of impartiality (reviews from New York) to try to “get it right”. Because it outrages the fans — even more than the players — when decisions are not “fair” or “right.” We should expect no less energy from our teams where their careers and livelihoods are at stake than in a largely meaningless sports contest. The result of effort should be positive progress.
Results are about recognition
In video games, as in film, one of the most important aspects of the entire project is the credits. Yes, rarely at the front of the game, most often at the end, you will find “credits”. A list of who did what on the project. From a dozen of video games that I worked on, creating the credits was perhaps one of the most emotional aspects of the project for many people. They wanted recognition for their contribution. They wanted people to know what they had done to family and friends, but most of all, their peers. Giving credit was the formal way of recognizing results. We did this!
Productive and Results Driven
In my experience, people will rally to a leader who is competent and capable, but more so, who is willing to create an environment where they can focus on producing results. They want transparency and fairness. In a word, they want to trust someone who can bring their best work and that the others around them will do the same. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of management and one I continually struggle with, balancing my personal productivity, with that of the team. I am reminded of some advice from one of my mentors, Jack Sorenson, who told me once, “It is not so important what you (personally) get done, it matters much. more what the team gets done.”