In a previous job a long time ago, I was sharing a late-night beer with the Chairman of our company, at that time based in Austin, Texas – the gun capital of the USA. As well as explaining how he had two guns in his Ferrari, had learned to accurately shoot people at distance, and how he was about to marry his fourth wife of 20-something (he was in his sixties!), he said he’d be very disappointed if he didn’t see his Chief Executive staring out of the window of his office at least once every day. Not because of the nice view! Because he wanted him to spend his time thinking! About strategic things like the way the world was changing and how our company could take advantage of it and stay ahead of the competition!
On our travels, we see so many Executives and Senior Managers busy with meetings, diaries overflowing, getting involved in all sorts of detail! Hands-on, so people might say!
The Glimpse of the Blindingly Obvious (GBO) is that these senior people are spending most of their time down at the tactical level or “transaction-level” of the organisation, rather than at the strategic level!
Because it seems very hard to let go – it’s easier to drop down a level and be busy doing things, attending meetings, making decisions (perhaps), taking action, approving others’ actions, reacting to (rather than educating) regulators – rather than thinking about things and really understanding what they should be focusing on, while letting the rest of the organisation get on and do the doing.
Bob Garratt wrote a great little book about this in 1990 (Creating a Learning Organisation – A Guide to Leadership, Learning and Development). Takes a couple of hours to read, but much longer to understand!
There’s a two-page Sloan Management Review from MIT – takes 15 minutes to read. Maybe a bit longer to understand and implement! https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/what-the-military-can-teach-organizations-about-agility/
The essence is to build an organisation based on a clear Central Intent (or Purpose), with clear Principles, and Business Processes that work to Implement them. We’ve seen many times where senior managers have struggled to get this right – where the processes they’re responsible for just aren’t working properly. And instead of creating the right processes, with quality of outcome built in, they spend all their time at the transaction-level – following each and every job (or project, or programme, or business change, or call and response to the public / customer, etc.) going into the process and using all their effort (reprioritising, escalating, etc. – you’ve been there!) trying to make sure it comes out right! They focus their understanding at the job- or transaction-level, rather than at the process-level.
But if you do get things right, you’ll be surprised just how much your team can get on with the job without you being around to “lead” them! And you can spend a bit more time staring out of the window!