Lead Well While You Are Producing

Written by Dr. John Townsend

April 8, 2015

Leaders wear two hats:  the leadership hat and the SME (subject matter expert) hat.  Often a CEO or owner must also be engaged in direct work with sales, operations, finance or marketing.  This can be because of financial limitations, or because he is simply head and shoulders more skilled in an area than the other talent is.  Sometimes this is a temporary situation (the money comes in with the growth, or the talent is recruited).  Sometimes it is permanent.

Regardless of why this is, the leader often feels torn and not effective in terms of time management. Here is a video about another area of frustration among leaders, and that is isolation.

The real tension comes in when she has to tear herself away from something to spend time developing people. She feels as if she is walking away from a fire that needs to be put out, or an opportunity that needs to be leveraged. This doesn’t end up helping her or the organization.

So, here are some ideas for leading well while you are delivering direct services at the same time.

Make a “What the Company Needs Most” list.  Create two columns, one with all your roles as a leader and the other as the SME.  Keep your “brutally honest hat “on and check off the roles that:

  1. Bring the most value to the company
  2. Only you can do, no one else.

This is critical because leaders often do what they do best or enjoy most.  Get out of your world, and into the company’s world.  You may want to get  feedback from someone who can be fair and objective about this as well, as it’s hard to do that when you’re in your own skin.

Default to Leadership Activities.  When in doubt with what to do with your time, always default to investing it in leading and developing others.  That is always your best path to the success and the sustainability of your organization.  People can replicate your efforts and you can move the company on at higher levels.  Even if the organization is in crisis, or if your absence from a role (sales, for example) will temporarily slow matters down, if your company can tolerate it, you will be OK in the long run.

Lead from both structured and informal levels.  The SME boss must have formal team meetings and 1-1 meetings with key directs.  But with your time limitations, make sure you are also doing ad hoc leadership, where you show up and train, affirm or challenge someone.  This can be what’s called “walking around management”, dropping by someone’s office or cubicle, or asking someone to grab coffee with you.

I once worked with a time-intensive medical company in which the physician/leaders actually had literally zero time for structured leading.  They could not meet with the people they were leading, because so much of their time was engaged in the practice of medicine.  So I crafted a “drive by leadership” model for them to adapt to that reality.  They learned to lead when they were walking from one office to another, on the way to lunch or even on the way to the restroom!  It wasn’t ideal, but it did the job.

Press toward less SME.  Keep training and developing your people.  If, after a few months of doing X% of SME and Y% leadership, it is the same, you have a problem.  Push toward getting your SME roles delegated or outsourced.

Wearing two hats takes work, but it can be very effective.

Best to your leadership.


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