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Time Worth Spending January 13, 2010

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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I think one of the tough challenges for any manager is figuring out where to spend their time, and specifically at what level of the organization. I’ve known a lot of managers who really enjoy the rough-and-tumble life of the problem solver, digging deeper and deeper into issues, attending and leading meetings to kick around different hypotheses, rounding up evidence, and driving the team to root cause and corrective action. Other managers stay aloof from the process, perhaps thinking they’re enabling their team, helping them grow by allowing them to learn from their own mistakes, and staying out of the way unless their help is requested.

There’s danger with too much of either extreme, and the effective manager must find a balance. Too much engagement can prevent the team from developing their own capabilities and leadership potential, especially in organizations where the manager is an acknowledged domain expert — or thinks they are — and creates an environment where subordinates who are unwilling to second-guess the boss withhold their input. Too little engagement can be disastrous if the delegating manager allows the team to spin their wheels on pointless activities, or, worse, lets them drive off the cliff.

Despite what you may have been told, there are only 24 hours in a day and that means there’s an opportunity cost in every decision about where to spend your time. I think we’ve all tried multi-tasking, and I think we’ve all experienced inconsistent results. Just as two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time, two activities can’t occupy the same time in the same space … or something like that.

I don’t think anyone can develop a one-size-fits-all model for effective time-balancing, but I think each manager should be guided by their personal objectives and the objectives assigned to their team. If they’re spending too much time doing other people’s jobs, then they’re surely neglecting other duties that are unique to their position in the business. Does the to-do list reflect the current priorities and long-term goals Delegation is noble, but managers should actively monitor their teams, setting up control limits and triggers that indicate when it’s appropriate to get more involved. When managers contribute as a domain expert, they should be clear that they’re “taking off their manager hat” and signal that they’re open to opposing views. At the end of the day the manager should be able to say that they helped move things forward not just through what they did, but what they allowed others to do.

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