How to balance Leading with the rest of your work
Being a leader is hard! Even when things are going well and there is not much changing around us there is a lot to do.
Add with all the changes that are happening around our businesses, how we are working, where we are working, where our business focus needs to be, our leadership workload goes up, but we still have to keep everything else going too. We need to be doing more to lead and reassure our teams, we have more activities and team outputs to manage, quite possibly with less people and we know we need to be developing our teams too if we want to perform well now and in the future.
So how can we balance getting our work done, with leading and developing our teams? It's time to get curious and make some choices about how we do that for ourselves in our roles.
Leading is only part of what you need to get done!
For many of us being a leader is only part of our work roles, we usually have a healthy amount of work we have to deliver too so finding a way to balance what we need to do as leaders with everything else is something that comes up at some point in everyone's leadership career - and often more than once!
It's a conversation I'm having a lot at the moment as those who are leading are working out how best to work in the current environment and finding themselves somewhat overloaded.
And don't worry I'm not going to sit here and just tell you to work harder or smarter - yes there are some things to think about that may help with that - but working harder and smarter isn't the whole solution here, if it was we wouldn't need this conversation!
It's great that you want to do the best you can do as a leader and that desire to do this as well as you can is going to help you stay curious about your leadership, to keep reflecting on how things are going, to keep learning and to keep growing as a leader. Without that drive you are never going to get things working well for you and the team and you will always feel there is something off and out of balance - the good news, however, if you are putting yourself in the category of people who don't want to do the best you can do as a leader, is that you don't need to listen to the rest of this podcast and you can invest the time in maybe sending those update emails or wondering why it seems you have to do everything yourself!
Does it feel like you are spinning plates
So assuming that you are still here, let's break down the challenge of balancing everything.
There are three main sets of things you need to focus on when you are leading a team, leadership, so setting the direction, creating the working environment and building for the future, managing, the bit where you and your team actually get things done and finally coaching, so developing your team's capability to perform better now and grow their roles and careers going forward.
Imagine each of those as a circle and all the activities you do need to go inside one of the circles.
For most leaders, that's how things feel, three separate plates of activity that they need to keep spinning.
And keeping those plates spinning is hard - we need to be flexible and focused, and that's where working harder sometimes happens - if I put in more effort and more time is it easier to keep those plates spinning? Well in the short term, possibly it is going to help, but it's not a sustainable long term plan.
And it's often where our boss and our advisors suggest we work smarter - maybe grouping similar tasks together, being more strategic about what we focus on but while we are busy spinning the plates that can seem great, but where is the time to work out what that means from a practical day to day perspective? It can even feel like being given an extra plate to spin - not really what we are looking for when we already feel overloaded.
Is there a formula to keep everything in balance and the plates spinning?
I work with a lot of people who are very analytical and I'm often asked if there is a formula for keeping these plates spinning - a correct % of time and effort to spend on each to make sure it keeps going, supports the team and none of them falls.
I would love to be able to say there is, but the reality the answer is that it depends. It depends on a large number of factors, such as your role, what's important to your company, your team's needs, their experience, the work your team is doing now, how your team fits into the organisation and works with other teams, the future requirements of your organisation if there is a lot of change at the moment.
The answer is going to be as individual as we are as leaders and as our circumstances are. So you need to get curious and ask yourself about your situation, apply some critical thinking and make the best decision about your balance for you and your team.
The other thing that I know many of the leaders I work with wish was true, is that when you find that balance it's just a case of keeping it. Sorry to bust this wishful thinking myth as well - the truth is that this balance is in a constant state of flux. Sometimes, depending on what is going on, one of the plates will need more help to keep it spinning and that time has to come from somewhere! So in reality as leaders, you are going to need to keep this balance under review and to be constantly adjusting it.
The magic key to balancing leadership with everything else
So we need to keep keeping all the plates spinning, and what it takes keeps changing - but we need to find a way to do it in a way that is manageable in the long term.
Here is the magic, and many leaders have told me this has been the one thing that has helped them unlock how to balance everything they need to do.
I want you to imagine those three spinning plates and overlap them like a Venn diagram - where part of each circle overlaps with each of the other two and there is a section in the middle where they all overlap.
Now, those spinning plates become more like cogs that help the other ones turn, so the work you do in one helps power the other two as well. Here is the diagram to help you visualise this
By finding ways to do things that combine activities in more than one circle you are able to have a more powerful impact and better meet the needs of your team and organisation.
The goal here is to spend as much time as you can in the section where the circles or cogs overlap so you are powering more than one at a time. Ideally, you want to be working where all three overlap, so when you do any one thing you are leading, managing and coaching your team.
So that probably all sounds lovely but rather abstract so let me give you an example. Let's say you have a piece of work you need to get done. Most people would class this as a management activity - since that's all about getting things done. Typically you might go to one of your team and ask them to get it done for you. How you move this into the intersection between managing, leading and coaching is in how you approach delegating this task.
It's not about adding to our workload, instead, how we delegate makes all the difference. If we just ask them to do a set of actions it stays as a management activity and I would argue also a lost opportunity.
As we are delegating we also have the chance to lead and to coach. Broadly if we start the conversation by setting the context for the task and explaining why it's important and where it fits into what as a team you are doing you are leading - reinforcing what the team is all about. Talking about the principles behind how the task can be accomplished adds another layer of leadership.
If you then focus on delegating the output rather than the tasks, you also have the opportunity to coach and develop that individual. When you ask someone how they would approach the task or what problems they are experiencing you can take a coaching-based approach and unlock their knowledge and potential. Taking this approach also means they are going to be more engaged and motivated in the task making managing the outputs easier - those three cogs working together to get you better and better results.
By changing how you do the things that you have to do, you can manage your overall workload better, keep everything in balance and make sure that as a leader you don't end up falling over - none of us wants that.
Keeping the leadership balance going
Keeping that balance when there is a lot going on, maybe because of a big project, or because your organisation is having to make a lot of changes, or because the world we operate in is changing so fast and so often, is tough and something you do need to think about.
I remember working on a project doing work I absolutely loved, with a team spread all over the globe. It soon became just about all I was doing and I was having so much fun I hadn't really noticed how little else I was doing either inside or outside work. My boss at the time took me to one side and pointed out how little balance I had in my life and politely suggested I might want to do something about that. So I did, by adding in more and more things around the project until the other areas of my role and my home life were just as busy as the project - so he had to take me to one side again and point out where I'd gone wrong!
That's not what we are talking about here. It's very easy to fall into the 'I'll just add a bit more here while it's busy or because of COVID or because of whatever excuse you are telling yourself - and while that is OK in the short term, if and only if, you give yourself permission to do less of something else, it's not the long term solution. Remember when we used to fly, at the safety briefing we were told to put our own oxygen masks on first - the same applies here.
Instead, let's apply an extension of the same thinking.
Given there is more to do, how can we take one task or thing that needs to be done and use it to support another? For example, who in the team would benefit from being developed to do this management task? How can I get the team supporting and promoting each other's development? What other resources are there in my organisation to help me show my team what we are all trying to achieve? Who can help me?
Get the help you need
All that said, sometimes the workload will just be too much, and either you have to agree to stop doing some things you normally consider important or bring in extra help.
We all need that extra resource and capacity from time to time and with the level of change and uncertainty we are leading through at the moment I'm seeing that a lot. I know many leaders, especially early in their career, find the idea of getting help hard - it can feel like you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing. I think it's more helpful to think of it as adding extra resource where it's needed so you and your team can flourish and thrive.
Let me give you an example of what that can look like. I'm talking to a lot of leaders at the moment who know the key to the changes they are going to need to make in response to the global pandemic is supporting the people managers in their organisation and growing their capability to manage, lead and implement changes, but who are so busy working out what the organisation needs to do to adapt and survive that they just don't have the time or capacity themselves to develop those leaders.
Developing a training programme isn't really an option since it takes time and the sheep dip approach to developing these skills is slow and not always targeted enough to make a difference. That's where my team of Curious Choice Coaches and I can step in and support leaders, providing targeted coaching and development that is timely and bespoke to the managers involved. And when we do together with the leaders, we are freeing up time for them to focus on the future of the organisation, and together we make sure those cogs keep turning and that the whole team can deliver what's needed by the organisation. If that's something you want to know more about do get in touch.
Summary & Taking Action
So in this episode, we have talked about the need to get curious about your personal leadership situation and create a balance between leading your team, managing so the work gets done, and coaching your team to perform at their best now and in the future.
We have talked about those three roles as spinning plates, each requiring different amounts of effort and energy to keep spinning depending on the team, what we are doing and the circumstances we are doing it under.
We talked about bringing those plates together so they overlap and become cogs driving each other, and we can achieve that by changing how we do what we do, rather than adding to it, so finding ways to incorporate what we do as a leader with development opportunities and tasks that need to be done.
And finally, we talked about how sometimes there is so much going on that you need to look after yourself and get the help you need in terms of additional capabilities and capacity.
The things I share in this podcast are based on my experiences, and some will be more relevant to you than others. I hope you choose to do something with the information I've shared but that is up to you. That’s what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious about your situation and then making choices that are right for you and your business.
So I have two questions I would like to leave you with
Firstly what things do you have to get done that you could power up by add elements of leading, managing and coaching?
What help do you need?