Running a country, managing a business, or leading a family – they all need a considered approach. Recent events have made me think about the common mistakes people make in leadership and management. Its not their fault, there’s so much confusion out there, and it is all too easy to fall into unhelpful habits.
It’s the huge proliferation of Government COVID-19 guidance that has stimulated today’s thoughts. I must admit. I tweeted as far back as 12 May 2020 “Swimming in guidance? Makes me think: Lead from the centre. Don’t manage from the centre. Allow local to decide, manage and deliver. Enable local to inform central leadership. Focus energy on doing, not over working guidance. Allow flexibility to evolve, don’t manufacture it.”
I blogged in June on similar themes https://workstylelifestyle.blog/2020/06/13/government-is-telling-us-what-to-do-like-never-before-lets-think-about-it-before-we-agree-to-comply/
Back then I had read guidance for early years and childcare, schools, retail, gyms and barbers. Since then I have been trying to keep up with updates and changing goalposts. I had started to feel unable to breathe in and out, put one foot in front of another, or decide what to have for breakfast without consulting guidance. I feared I, like everyone around me, I was at risk of becoming guidance dependent. Guidance has its place. And its place is to advise and inform our autonomous decision-making as free-thinking individuals, with induvial circumstances, needs and wants.
I listen as every new piece of guidance is issued, and pause to wait for the inevitable barrage of questions and exclamations for people who ask “what about me? It doesn’t tell me what to do”. There should be lots of areas of our lives that aren’t specified or forethought by Whitehall mandarins. It’s a good thing. I mean, what sort of a world would it be if they did take it upon themselves to meddle in everything? One problem is all this well-intentioned guidance and its regular updates started pretty early to tie itself, and us, in knots.
Leaders lead. They inspire, empower, motivate, and enable. Managers tell you what to do check you are doing it and measure its success throughout and afterwards. It’s a somewhat simplistic view I know, but there are big differences and it can be confusing if you mix these roles up too much, and a real challenge if you are the person that has to do both.
But government should remember to lead from the centre. Managing from the centre across 151 different and diverse local authority areas (in England), is impossible. Something only necessary when local becomes dysfunctional. That is why we have local councils, to lead and manage locally. There needs to be a return to a greater sense of allowing local to decide, manage and deliver. It a lesson any business leader should heed.
Because just like in a business, if you enable the workforce, shop-floor or front-line to take ownership and make decisions, then this practical learning has the potency to better inform central leadership. As long as you listen. This results in better leadership and decision and policy making. If we allow for that, then people and colleagues can focus their energy on the business of doing or living, and not fearfully over-thinking guidance. And they can do so flexibility and innovatively. I worry that many business leaders could fall into the trap of over-thinking and controlling, following the blueprint set by the detail and frequency of government guidance. Best lead, talk, listen and manage together as a team.