The Five Components of Hands-On Management

There are volumes of research that have attempted to distinguish between leaders, managers, and supervisors: Leaders focus on the big picture, managers focus on details, and supervisors focus on carrying out the details. Leaders inspire, managers do the paperwork, and supervisors assign, monitor, and measure the tasks of individual contributors.


But the truth of the matter is, there are no major dividing lines between leadership, management, and supervision.


If you're in a position of authority and influence and you have employees reporting to you, then you should be focusing on the big picture, focusing on details, doing the paperwork, and making sure all the work gets done. Management is--or should be--a daily, hands-on practice.


What does it mean to be sufficiently hands-on as a manager? There are five crucial components.


1. Being Highly Knowledgeable About the Tasks And Responsibilities Of Your Direct Reports

To be highly knowledgeable, you must know the details of your people's work. Of course, it's impossible to know every single detail. So, how much do you really need to know?


Enough to know

  • What can be done every day, and what cannot.
  • What resources will be necessary.
  • What problems may occur.
  • What expectations are reasonable.
  • What goals and deadlines are sufficiently ambitious.


In other words, you need to know enough to fairly and accurately monitor and measure success and failure


2. Spending Time with Every Direct Report in Daily Coaching Sessions

Do you need to meet with every single person, every single day? Perhaps in an ideal world, but in the real world, there must be room for flexibility. Every direct report is different. Some require more time, more often. Others require less time, less often. Not only that, but work is a moving target: Some tasks and responsibilities and projects require more time, more often, and others require less. If you are sufficiently hands-on, you should be able to gauge how much time you need to spend with each direct report, depending upon the person and their tasks, responsibilities, and projects.


No matter the specifics, it is best to stick to these two rules of thumb:

  • Each of your direct reports should meet with you one-on-one, for at least 15 minutes, to engage in substantive coaching-style discussions about the work. Relying on quarterly, formal performance reviews is not enough.
  • At the very least, you should have these brief coaching sessions with every direct report once a week.


3. Using Your Coaching Time with Direct Reports Talk About The Work They Are Doing

When you have limited time, your first priority should be talking about the work. That means reminding direct reports about overall performance standards and, more importantly, spelling out concrete expectations. You must clarify short-term and long-term goals and deadlines. You must articulate guidelines and parameters. Your mantra in your routine one-on-one meetings should be: "Here's what I need you to do: [specific goal]. I need this by [specific deadline]. And here are the guidelines: [specific directions]. Do you understand?"


4. Providing Direction, Guidance, And Support on A Regular Basis

In your regular meetings, you must be prepared to help identify resource needs and help fulfill them. You must be prepared to help identify potential problems and help solve them. You must be prepared to monitor and measure the workload of each person so that you can put the pressure on or take the pressure off as needed.


You must be prepared to evaluate performance so that you can determine when:

  • Tasks, responsibilities, and projects are a good fit or a bad fit.
  • The direct report requires more information or additional training.
  • A direct report is having a bad day, or a good day.
  • A direct report needs advice, motivation, inspiration, or counsel.

5. Monitoring And Measuring Performance in Writing, So That You Can Reward Success And Address Failure

You must be in a position to judge the cause of success as well as failure, and be able to determine whether that cause is linked to a direct report's attention, care, judgment, or effort. You must also be able to document your judgment. That means you must routinely keep note during every coaching session with every direct report. Record the performance standards and expectations that are communicated, the goals and deadlines that are assigned, and all other significant details as they are discussed.

Make better use of your management time

Improving the quality of your leadership, no matter your role, is one of the best career investments you can make:

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