I like to keep myself informed of the latest theories that accompany the science of management and leadership. It is part of a commitment to excellence in the field.
So sometimes it surprises me when I come across articles and research that demonstrate knowledge we’ve had for years about the challenges that leaders face, and it still has yet to penetrate the mass consciousness of business.
I came across just such an article, called The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact, written by Henry Mintzberg and published in the Harvard Business Review in the July/August 1975 issue.
It’s entirely possible that Mintzberg’s analysis was way ahead of its time. Harvard Business Review certainly felt it was important enough to publish it again in 1990 as the lead article for its compilation of the most influential articles on leadership.
For the first time, Mintzberg helped managers articulate what it is that they actually do, rather than what it is they think they do. In doing so, managers felt understood. More importantly, they had greater capacity to understand themselves.
He did this by creating a distinction between the cerebral manager and the insightful manager. Here’s what he distinguished.
Cerebral management is an approach to management that’s based upon a thought or an idea of what management could or should look like. Cerebral management shows up as typical responses from managers when asked what they do. Those typical responses include planning, organising, controlling and coordinating.
In theory, this is what managers do. The practice of management is very different. For example, people believe managers are reflective. Studies show that managers actually avoid tasks that require reflective work, like planning, in favour of short interval exercises and regular bursts of energy across different activities.
In realising this, you as a manager can be responsible for it and choose to perform your tasks differently. The key, though, is the willingness to bring insight to yourself as you fulfil your role. This can accompany huge resistance!
Often it feels as though there is no time for insight in business. When you’ve got a million-and-one things on your to-do list, taking a moment to consider if there’s a more effective way of getting the job done or looking at your own behaviour as the possible cause of the ineffectiveness is the last thing on your mind.
In many cases, pausing to reflect and listen to yourself first can elevate your performance. Imagine what your experience would be like if you could take yourself out of the chaos for, say, 5 minutes and assess your current approach.
What might you discover?
You might discover that all the effort you’ve been exerting could have been better spent elsewhere to achieve the same and likely better results. You might realise that you were limiting yourself and your team with your approach. You might even find that all the frantic activity prevented you from seeing the most obvious course of action.
Applying insight to your leadership enables you to adjust your course of action so that you stay in alignment with your vision, mission, values and goals.
Let me demonstrate how this works in practice. A client came to me, a fellow coach, who set up a practice to support women in business. She watched the marketplace, identified a gap in the market, and decided she would differentiate herself by positioning herself as an expert on money. The problem was, she was not getting very far with her business
Digging a little deeper, we discovered that money was part of a much bigger story. She was really about empowerment. By trying to force herself into a niche, she cheated herself, reducing what she could offer to one small slice of a very big pie. What she realised is that money, for her, is one of several enabling energies that provides the power required to accomplish great things in life.
In our discussion, her true purpose came to light: being powerful and responsible with money emerges when her clients value themselves. This is what she was really offering, and she recognised that this principle could be applied to many aspects of life that impact business success. Her own possibilities expanded, and she felt inspired to move forward again after having felt stuck.
This is true for you and your leaders, too. When leaders learn to bring insight to everyday tasks, they make better decisions. They discover how to say yes and no when appropriate. They delegate more effectively. They create space for deeper thinking that creates richer results. They develop wisdom. It is this work that makes the difference.
Taking time out in the short term pays of dividends pretty quickly. Delivering valuable results helps leaders learn to value themselves. When leaders value themselves, they deliver value to others. Valued leaders, in turn, make valuable leaders.
Brilliant ones, in fact.