- Parent Category: Leadership
- Created on Monday, 28 November 2011 05:23
- Published Date
So there you are – in control, quite content, coasting along, impressed with yourself. You have settled well into your new job, the team is chugging along just fine, and their overall performance is OK – not spectacular, but OK. You are doing a good job, right? Maybe, maybe not.
The question you have to ask yourself is this: have you actually made a difference since you took over as manager, have you actually added any value to the job? Think about it – if you were to leave now, what changes and improvements will you leave behind, what will your legacy be – apart from a team that is ‘chugging along just fine’ and vague memories of your nice personality and charming manners?
It is all too easy to become a self-satisfied and complacent manager, particularly if you have been in the same job a while. We get so used to things the way they are that we forget that the whole world around us is constantly changing. Which reminds me of Heraclitus the Greek philosopher, an old acquaintance of mine, who once said: ‘The only constant is change’. Change happens everywhere and with everyone and all the time – whether in outer space where the sun will burn out in a few hundred million years, or in the subatomic world, where particles endlessly collide with one another, morphing into something different. If we don’t change along, we will be chugging along backwards, because the people and the world around us will be constantly changing.
To illustrate, take the intriguing Case of the Redundant Weekly Report. A while back, as a management consultant at one of the larger parastatals, I noticed one of the divisional accountants working feverishly on a rather elaborate financial report that had to be submitted to head office on a weekly basis. The contents of the report did not make sense to either of us, but that was how it has been done for the past couple of years. So I convinced the accountant to stop doing the reports so we can see what happened. Nothing happened – not the following week or anytime thereafter. Upon further investigation it transpired that the person at head office who originally requested the weekly reports, has since left the organisation and nobody else at head office had any use or need for the weekly reports coming in from all the divisions. It just goes to show: we should not accept things the way they are simply because they were always done like that; we should constantly question and query every facet of our jobs.
Affecting changes and leaving a worthwhile legacy behind may not always come easy. Sometimes it will take initiative, courage and resilience to get the changes done – particularly if you work in a large bureaucratic company or organisation where officialdom, budget restrictions and all kinds of red tape can bog you down for good. To illustrate, take the Case of the Newly Appointed Manager of a government department’s training facility in a small rural town. When the manager tried to upgrade the inadequate infrastructure and dilapidated facilities, he ran into the same problems that his predecessor did, i.e. lack of funding. However, instead of resigning himself to his lot – like his predecessor did – he took the initiative and approached the private sector in the town for sponsorships and donations. When he moved on after 3 years, he left behind a modern, state-of-the-art training facility – a legacy that can still be seen today.
Remaining in your comfort zone and not challenging the status quo is of course the failsafe way to go – you avoid risking failure or being proven wrong. And yes, implementing a number of changes and all sorts of productivity improvements will add a significant burden to your already overloaded schedule. But if you are prepared to get out of your comfort zone and make things better, you will be able to show your true mettle, stretch your potential, and taste the sweet accomplishment of knowing you have made a real difference. And you will have much more fun!
So here are a couple of guidelines for real leaders who want to make sure they have made a difference by the time they move on:
■Challenge the status quo: Don’t take anything for granted or on face value – move out of your comfort zone and constantly, daily, question and query every aspect of you and your team’s role and function to see where you can optimise or improve them. Don’t see change in your personal or work environment negatively or as a threat or inconvenience; see change as an opportunity to take the initiative and make things better.
■Make a difference to your team: Help your team members to develop and to get more satisfaction from their jobs – constantly strive to improve their working conditions, help them to grow as individuals and in their careers, match them to roles that fit their individual strengths, and empower them so they take pride and ownership in their jobs.
■Add value to your function: You have been appointed as manager to make a difference, so critically assess every facet of your function and come up with novel and new ways to improve overall productivity and efficiency. Follow the Japanese Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement and get your team’s ideas, opinions and inputs – they know exactly where and how their daily tasks can be improved so they can be more efficient. And don’t take ‘NO’ for an answer – if you run into walls or are being stymied around every corner, make a plan, improvise, think outside the box, but make things better.
■And grow as a person: Make sure you practice continuous improvement on yourself as well – work on your self-awareness, build your talents into strengths, grow your knowledge and skills. As Socrates, another old acquaintance of mine, once said: ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ Just remember: you are the leader, the role model; you have to be worth following.
So there you go: Real leaders do make a difference – when they move on, they leave behind legacies where their team members are enjoying more job satisfaction and their teams are more productive and efficient.
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