“Great organizations do routine things routinely,” is an old saying (at least within the military) that I love and has resonated with me since I heard it earlier in my career. However, with time, I’ve found that while many love the idea of the quote (it sounds impactful and important), I don’t think most fully understand what it actually means.
Moreover, I recently finished Ryan Hawk’s new book, Welcome to Management, where, in it, he quotes his dad who asserts that, “You are now a leader. You must become a ‘numbers guy’ [management] and continue to inspire. You need to lead, manage, and coach. To be excellent, you have to do all three.”
I’m sure most of us can look to a time where we served within an organization that seemed to be merely reacting day-to-day, only tackling the short, immediate issues each day and never working to deliberately shape a distant future. We would walk away from work each day feeling like we strove just to survive, stay afloat, and avoid failure – but not having accomplished anything truly important long-term.
Looking back at Ryan Hawk’s quote, the concepts of leading and coaching are the ‘sexy’ ones that we all want to do and become better at – we read, study, and practice to improve our leadership and coaching abilities. But, unfortunately, the art and science of management don’t get such popular attention because, well, it’s an unsexy topic; it’s not inspiring, doesn’t contribute to some grand legacy, or directly positively impact lives. But managing well is important because, if we don’t, our organization and people do not reach the personal and collective capacity to do the other efforts well. Effective management enables effective leadership, leader development, and coaching by creating capacity. With that added capacity, we can then pour available attention and energy into other, and arguably more important, efforts like developing leaders, building a strong culture, improving performance, and so on. Our organization and people have a finite capacity in a day, week, month, and year. If we are able to apply effective management to accomplish the routine (and oft less important) things routinely, we reduce the overall capacity put forth towards them. By reducing and minimizing the capacity towards the routine (important or unimportant) items that require our attention, we can then apply that capacity elsewhere.
So, we need to talk about the art and science of managing our team and our collective regular requirements well. One of my favorite definitions of leadership, and one that I feel is most complete, is the U.S. Army’s definition, where it states that the purpose of leadership is two-fold: to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. Management is a key component to achieving the “accomplish the mission” component effectively and efficiently.
Defining Our Priorities
A popular distinguisher between leadership and management is that management is doing things the right way, while leadership is making sure we are doing the right things. Applicable to both, I believe that we must be clear on our leader/manager priorities. These are universal and enduring, applying to all contexts and levels within an organization. Our priorities should fall in this order:
- First, Do What’s Right. First and foremost, we must do what is legally, morally, ethically, and socially right. This is leading with character and must apply regardless of consequences. Every other priority is subordinate to what is right.
- Do What Your Boss Wants. This is conditional only when it violates the above priority. Otherwise, our boss’s priorities trump all else, no matter our personal opinions or feelings. There is a fine art of applying this priority well, absolutely, but we do not have the luxury of what priorities of our boss we apply and don’t. Our boss’s priorities must be ours as well.
- Do What’s Required. These are all the routine activities that must happen within our organization. These can be things like annual trainings, monthly inventories, quarterly surveys, and so on. In the U.S. Army, we commonly refer to these as ‘AR 350-1 training.’
- Finally (and lastly), Do What You Want. All remaining time and capacity are finally yours to shape to do what you feel is necessary for your organization and it’s developmental needs.
As you can see, it can be easy for priority #4 to never make it onto organizational calendars, schedules, or efforts if priorities #2 and #3 take up all of our time and effort. We need to manage these higher priorities well to enable the ability to attend to our own priorities.
Managing priorities #2 (boss) and #3 (required) well means that we accomplish all assigned missions/tasks and meet all higher HQ intents while still enabling the capacity for your priorities for your organization. Remember, regardless of the level of your role within your organization, according to the U.S. Army leadership definition, you have two enduring responsibilities: accomplish the mission and improve the organization. The above-listed priorities #2 and #3 achieve the first part – accomplish the mission. Priority #4 enables you to achieve the second part – improving the organization.
If we poorly manage the higher priorities, we will never get the opportunity to address our fourth one, which our own leader priorities! And if we don’t do that, we merely react day-to-day to avoid failures; it prevents us from deliberately improving our leaders and organization.
When we look at the art and science of managing well, what are the metrics that we can or should use to assess our success in doing so? Well, we can and should certainly establish specific organizational quantitative and/or qualitative metrics. But most broadly, I look at successful management according to two primary metrics: effectiveness and efficiency.
First, our management methods and tools must accomplish their assigned mission or task, meaning effective. Does it meet requirements, intent, and within necessary timelines? If so, great!
Then, once our management efforts are effective, we dive deeper and assess how efficient they are. Do our efforts, methods, and tools make peoples’ lives easier while accomplishing the mission? Or are our efforts unorganized, unsynchronized, and ultimately require others to spin their wheels so unnecessarily in order to meet requirements? Our second metric must be an efficient system that improves others’ capacities while meeting requirements.
Growing up, my mom would tell me, “don’t confuse motion with progress.” Just because there’s a lot of commotion does not mean there is in fact progress. We must ensure our management methods directly lead to progress (effective) while requiring the minimum amount of motion (efficient).
Management Methods & Tools
Having pontificated extensively on the idea of management, we should finally explore what it actually is. I want to do so not through looking at what the broad responsibility of management is (I think most readers recognize that), but through sharing some tactical tools that we can and should leverage to apply effective and efficient management to our team. Below, I offer a few methods and tools I routinely turn to in order to bring improved management to my organizations.
- Routines & Processes: A series of actions or steps taken to achieve a desired end. These become a routine when they are done iteratively over some necessary time-loop, like weekly reports, monthly inventories, or annual training. These can be time or conditions based, depending on the need they are satisfying.
- Platforms & Products: Tools to enable tangible results. These can come in many forms like digital reports, physical file organization structure, etc. To help provide context to management platforms, here are a few recent examples of ones I’ve created and applied in my own organization: Adopting Microsoft Teams (part of the MS 365 suite) as our team’s new knowledge management and file sharing platform, creating a “drop box” folder in our MS Team for subordinate commands to submit all documents for higher HQ approval (removing the monotony of literally hundreds of emails each week for these requirements), and maintaining a web-based Word document for subordinate commands to submit routine reports on specific ways they are accomplishing their boss’s priorities.
- Calendar: A tool to schedule and plan activities within time and space. Managing these well can be a mechanism for us to schedule our higher priorities (boss’s and required) to enable us to find those opportunities for activities to support our own organizational priorities.
- Task Tracking: Tools to ensure we maintain awareness of and accomplish all assigned tasks. Again, there is a subtle art to leveraging these well as they can easily encourage unproductive micromanagement, but certain tools can help us identify, track, assign responsibility, and verify efficient closeout of all designated tasks (again, boss and required priorities).
We often discuss this idea of systems or a ‘systems-approach’ to management, but I feel many young leader/managers struggle to conceptualize what a system in fact is. To me, I see a system as a process paired with a platform (the first and second items listed above). The process makes it run as long and often as needed while the platform makes the results tangible and accessible for users. A very simple example of a system could be the need to inventory the quantity of widgets when they are delivered to your warehouse. The process is counting the widgets as they are carted off the truck into the warehouse for every delivery, say weekly. The platform can be a combination of an inventory sheet to mark them off and maintaining some enduring roster (Excel document, etc.) that records the date, widget quantity, and inspector’s name of every inventory to maintain and verify widget accountability long-term. Complete, effective systems tend to combine both a process and platform together to achieve a defined management need within the organization.
I hope that a little education (or re-engagement) on this topic of management can inspire and equip us a bit more to bring this necessary skill to the teams and organizations we lead. While management may not directly contribute to developing other leaders, it certainly is the mechanism that enables you and others to put forth effort and capacity to do it.
Establish these attitudes, methods, and tools to accomplish all assigned missions effectively and efficiently to ultimately enable leader, member, and team capacity for leader development; team growth; and performance improvement.
If you’re interested in reading more about management and how it compliments leadership, you can check out these earlier 3×5 Leadership pieces: Face It: We Are All Managers and Creating Opportunities in Our Organizations & Making the Time for Leader Development as part of The Leader Development Handbook. You can also explore a few books: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey and Good to Great, by Jim Collins.
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