Have you ever seen someone assigned to a project they were passionate about, but they found themselves unable to bring that passion to the work? Have you ever seen someone like that more or less stop caring about their project, though intellectually they still had a passion for the mission? Have you ever been that someone?
I recently encountered a situation like this. After some discussion and inquiry I discovered that, in that case, the issue was a dominant management style that was out of sync with the mission, and with the people assigned to it. I have seen this happen often, and that made me think of three of the dominant management styles I most frequently encounter: “You”, “We” and “Me.”
At one end of the continuum we find leaders who are “you-focused.” These people put their employees and their mission at the forefront of everything they do. They have a passion for both and are clear of vision. They are focused on the success of their people, and they achieve their objectives by helping their employees to succeed. The success of others is their preferred fuel.
You-focused leaders will always be there when they are needed, but never in their team’s way. These leaders often advocate for employees without their knowledge and expect nothing in return. They see this as their duty. They are also interested in the careers and futures of the people in their teams and will prepare them to advance to their passion and aspirations. Sometimes this is done formally and sometimes subtly. But it is always done. In execution, these leaders are mission-focused.
Between “You” and “Me” on the continuum we find “we-focused” managers. These managers have one foot in the “You” camp and one in the “Me” camp. In fact, it might be more accurate to state that these managers are you-focused some of the time and me-focused some of the time. They spend some of their time on each, but do not necessarily connect the two.
We-focused managers spend a lot of their employee face time dealing with tactical issues, calendars and milestones, but they also have time for things like a career discussion now and again – though their people may need to remind them to do so. In execution these managers are focused on accomplishing “your goals and my goals.”
At the opposite continuum from “You” we find “me-focused” administrators. Administrators are all about their own dashboard. They have been assigned to make progress on specific items, to “move the needles.” They are laser-focused on this and do not focus on the needs of their people of their own volition. That is not to state they do not like their people, or people in general. They just don’t focus on them during their own job.
Me-focused administrators will take care of their people’s needs but will often treat those as projects. They might be the people Rear Admiral Grace Hopper had in mind when she offered these words of caution: “You don’t manage people, you manage things. You lead people.” In execution, these administrators are focused on accomplishing their own personal goals. It’s all about moving that needle. It can often be about self-preservation.
Earlier I mentioned a person who’s passion was out of sync with their execution. We discovered this was largely because they were being managed via a person who had a dominant (we estimated near 100%) me-focused style. That task and that team were better served by something nearer the other end of the continuum. While they may not have required a completely you-focused leader, they needed some “you” in the equation. And they needed a bit of servant-leadership so they could focus on the innovative task at hand. They were out of rhythm. Focus on process and form had stifled creativity.
There are two important lessons here. First, as leaders we need to be aware of our dominant styles, and we need to be able to adjust to each situation. That can mean making a personal adjustment, or bringing someone in to take care of your “gaps.” Second, and perhaps even more critical, a leader’s dominant style can develop into a culture. So, for example, an administrator’s team can develop a process-focused culture where feeding the process becomes more of a focus than the objectives themselves. In extreme cases, teams can put more effort into the processes than the mission they are supposed to accomplish. And there are pros and cons to every style.
There is much more to cover here than there is space to write, so here are a few questions to help us to continue this discussion. Is there a best style or mix for innovative tasks? What is your dominant style? How dominant is it? Does your style help your team drive innovation? How do you know when your style is out of sync? What do you do about it? Please share your insights.