Don’t Manage Time, Invest it in People
By Dr. Gary Bradt
management is a grand idea when dealing with the things in
your life. It’s all about organization, efficiency and getting
things done. As a tool for leading people through change,
however, it misses the mark. In fact, when leading change, the last
thing you want to do is manage your time. Instead, invest it in the
people with potential to become change leaders themselves, and the
returns you get may surprise you. Following is an incredible story
that illustrates the point.
years ago I became upset when a player on the NFL’s Carolina
Panthers beat up a teammate and subsequently was suspended for one
measly game by the team. I felt this punishment was too lax (after
all, the attacked teammate ended up in the hospital) and wrote an
angry letter to the teams’ owner, Jerry Richardson, expressing as
much. Mr. Richardson not only acknowledged my letter after I figured
it would end up in the trash but he went one giant-step further. He
offered to come visit my thirteen-year-old son, who was a big fan of
the team’s, and me, along with the star player in question, wide
receiver Steve Smith.
made the two-hour drive each way from team headquarters to my home
and stayed with us for three hours. I learned that day that Steve
Smith is a good man who made a bad mistake and was willing to learn
and take responsibility for his actions. I admire him greatly for
that. From Mr. Richardson, I learned the power of a leader being
personally invested in future leaders who can make a difference.
Richardson invested time in me that day, but more importantly he
invested time and energy in Steve Smith, someone with potential to
lead changes on the field of play. I can only imagine the
discussions they had as they drove back and forth and the bonds they
forged and then carried forward. It’s no coincidence that the
following season Steve Smith emerged as the team’s biggest star and
helped lead them to a Super Bowl appearance.
Richardson identified Steve Smith as someone I call a
‘diamond-in-the-rough,’ a leader of untapped potential. Then, he
personally invested his time and energy to help Steve unleash his
potential. You can do much the same for the uncut diamonds in your
organization. Here are five tips to help get you started.
Hold yourself accountable for people development. Common comfort
zones such as crunching numbers and formulating strategy have their
place, but both are useless if you don’t have leaders in place to
execute. Therefore, hold yourself accountable for the people side of
the equation too. Recognize more pressing issues will always come
up, so do whatever it takes to make finding and developing people a
priority. Schedule time for building relationships into your
calendar. Make a list or create a spreadsheet to track your progress
if you must. Set goals for people development and hold yourself too
Identify your Steve Smiths, or your “diamonds-in-the-rough.” You
can’t invest in your future change leaders if you don’t know who
they are. Some ‘diamonds’ are obvious. Their talent and ability
dazzles and stands out, but others may require energy and effort to
unearth. This may be especially true if you work in a large
organization where talented people lay buried within the
bureaucracy. In this case, use Tom Peters’ old technique of
management by walking around. Get out of your comfort zone. Visit
places in your organization where you don’t know as many people.
Talk to at least one new person a day. Take the new guy or woman to
lunch. When you visit remote sites, make it a point to meet people
relevant to your line of business, then, follow up with those you
Once you find them, don’t delegate your ‘diamond’
development. Certainly Human Resources and your training
department have a role to play in polishing future leaders’ skills
and capabilities. But the savviest leaders take personal
responsibility for helping people grow. Once you have identified the
people you think could be future change leaders for your
organization, get personally involved in their development. Jerry
Richardson answered my letter and placed the initial call to me.
Jerry Richardson invited Steve Smith to join him on his visit. Jerry
Richardson even drove the car himself. He didn’t delegate these
duties; he owned them as his. Poor time management? Perhaps. But,
poor time management often creates the conditions for great change
leadership to occur.
Polish your gems by asking questions. The best leaders ask
questions – lots of them. They don’t invest much time in running
around telling people what to do. In fact, they don’t hire people
who have to wait to be told what to do. Instead, they unleash talent
by presenting problems and asking for ideas versus offering
solutions. They understand their job is to lead, not do. They
encourage people to think. They encourage people to act. They remove
organizational roadblocks that hold talent back. They ask questions
versus bark orders.
Explore ideas and build relationships beyond the boundaries of work.
Engage people on a variety of topics beyond your common industry
issues. Refining someone’s leadership often means helping them look
beyond the confines of their everyday world for novel solutions and
product innovations they can bring back to it. Become emotionally
invested too. Spend time getting to know your future leaders.
Find out what matters to them, inside and outside of work. Sometimes
engaging in small talk can lead to big insights. You may discover a
personal situation that is holding someone down or holding him or
her back, such as the illness or loss of a loved one. You may not be
able to do anything tangible to help, but simply knowing that you
care can be reassuring and provide a boost. If you want people to be
there for you when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will when
things change, you need to personally invest in them first.
Final Word: If investing in people sounds like a ‘soft’ activity
to you, you’re right. It is. But rare is the business that can
consistently return good, hard results without making soft
investments in people first. People determine whether you win or
lose, whether the game is football or business or life. To better
lead change, stop managing your time and start investing it in
people. Then enjoy as the wins pile up.
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