Inspired Leadership

Motive Matters

Perhaps it’s the promise of higher pay or status in the organisation or access to the exclusive club that seems to be in the know in your organisation. If that is ringing true for you, you will likely resist and resent a lot of what makes first-line management the toughest but most rewarding role in an organisation.

On the other hand, if you take on the role of manager because you see ways you can serve your team, help them eliminate obstacles and get clarity around priorities because you are connected to the people in the know…. Then you will find management a rewarding and motivating role. But it is not without its challenges.

The Essence of Responsibility-Based Leadership

Patrick Lencioni refers to the latter as responsibility-based leadership. This means that you take on the role of manager realising that the rewards are seldom external. There are few “best manager” accolades and often the role and impact is undervalued in many organisations. However, YOU can have a massive impact on the people you lead. You are spoken about around the dinner table, at the coffee machine and your impact can either build or break a team’s commitment to the organisation and their work. Gallup research repeatedly reports that employees perform at their best in large part because of the environment (climate) created by their first-line manager. 

Navigating Leadership Paths

What will a responsibility-based leader do that a reward-motivated leader will avoid?

Responsibility-motivated leaders move towards difficult conversations, they give feedback that will help others perform better. Leaders who are there to serve their team are aware that not everything will go well, and that redirecting behaviour, giving constructive feedback and leaning into conversations that have an emotional edge is essential. 

In the organisations I talk to, almost everyone cites the inability to hold difficult conversations as their number one inhibitor of organisational performance. In today’s hyper-sensitive world, where we are all terrified of using the wrong pronoun or cracking a joke that initiates a grievance procedure, difficult conversations smack of subjectivity and opinion. And we are all entitled to our opinion! So we say nothing (out loud anyway…) and avoidance becomes the new norm.

The Team-Centric Manager

When managers want to be managers to serve, they are interested in their team. They know what each is busy with, what kind of work they enjoy and what skills, thinking and preferences they bring into the workplace. They know this because they ask! They regularly check in with their team members. They also regularly discuss ways they could be more effective and use coaching practices to unleash their teams’ independence and ownership and avoid telling them what they should or should not do. They encourage empowerment in individual decision-making because they spend time connecting the work people do with the organisation’s vision and main objectives. Joining the dots allows people to colour at will within the guidelines.

Managers who are doing the role as a stepping stone to greater things avoid one-to-ones with their people. They cancel arranged meetings and always put the client and their upline ahead of their people. They are excellent with clients or functionally and mostly don’t have time to connect with their team members because they are very busy with very important meetings and client emergencies. This behaviour is often reinforced by organisations who celebrate the more measurable elements in the workplace: signed deals, delivered projects, full sales pipeline, but forget that great managers manage the people who manage the client. The impact of this type of management is demotivated team members. People who are overwhelmed and stressed. They are unable to prioritise because their manager doesn’t cascade vision and direction or connect what they do to the bigger picture. As a result, everything is equally urgent, which makes nothing urgent!

The stage of effective meetings

Managers who take on the role of leading others are thoughtful about their meetings. They realise that a meeting has 3 parts: planning and preparation, discussion, and follow-up. They use meetings well, are thoughtful about how to make the time matter and use inclusive communication approaches to avoid being the “sage on the stage”. Everyone attends the meeting, knowing why they are there and are prepared to add value. In the meeting, each person’s thinking and perspectives are heard and valued. After the meeting, there are clear actions which are followed up on.

Managers who are there for the show, attend lots of meetings and arrange plenty too. Mostly recurring meetings! Their diaries are often managed by someone else, who accepts and schedules meetings based on availability, not purpose. As a result, they are always too busy to check in with their people because they are always in meetings.

The Reflective Leader-Manager

Leader-managers spend time regularly considering how their team works. Not just what they do. They interrogate the effectiveness of routines and rituals that are “just the way things have always been done” and ask uncomfortable questions. They will embrace tools and external help to create a container for their team to talk constructively. They take risks to try new approaches and ways of working as experiments. Often taking on ideas from the people who are DOING the work on how things could be better.

Reward-based managers focus on the facts, the hard data and the measurements. If it can’t be measured it doesn’t matter! Their myopic focus on what gets done makes it hard for people to raise ideas or uncomfortable truths that get in the way of execution. As a result, teams are quiet. Difficult but good conversations are avoided and the team functions in the way they have always been working. New people either fit in or don’t. Team members stay because the work is interesting or they are growing their skills, not because they feel like what they do matters or they matter. Their jobs are temporary steppingstones to something greater.

The attraction to new and shiny

Reward-based managers like new and shiny things! They will be the first to be involved in the bling, they will put the team forward to try, test or innovate. But will avoid the repetitive nature of the role required to align people to a common vision and achievement of team goals. Responsibility-based managers risk repetition in service of unity. They want people to know the organisation’s vision and why it matters, so they repeat it. They will repeat the key priorities for the year over and over to ensure alignment. They appreciate that new people to the team might have missed the kick-off / town-hall / objective setting conversation and so coral their team regularly, pointing them all in the same direction. The impact of this is empowerment within the guardrails. Team members know what guides them, and so they prioritise their work, and make informed decisions about how they spend time and money, all in service of well communicated and understood objectives.

Reflections and actions

As you read these descriptions, I am confident you will see yourself, your manager and previous managers in your career. Some of the key actions will be obvious to you and others less so. But I almost guarantee that when you think of the best managers you have had in your career, they will be ticking most if not all the boxes of responsibility-based leadership. 

In the world of leadership, choosing responsible leadership means leaving a lasting mark. Use these ideas as inspiration in your own leadership journey. Despite the dominant culture in your organisation challenge the norms, and be a leader who stands out—not just in achievements but in the hearts and minds of your team.

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