One of my favourite shows when growing up was Batman. I used to relish the situations that made the mild-mannered Bruce Wayne turn into a world-saver.
A lot of traditional managers see themselves in a similarly role today.
In the TV show, when the people of Gotham City needed him most, Batman and his right-hand-man, Robin, would arrive and beat off one of his arch-enemies. With the right degree of courage, wit, and cunning, they took care of the problem for the city. At the end of the episode, our hero would leave the folks of Gotham wondering, “Who was that man?”
The same spirit of rugged individualism runs deep within many of today’s “heroic managers”. They solve problems, take command, control and direct, occasionally empower team members, and are caught up in putting out daily operating fires. They are often overworked and a growing number are burning out. Managers often talk about their volume of email, voice mail, projects, meetings, and many hours worked. One of the big reasons typical managers are caught up in their “busyness” cycle is because it makes them feel important. They are at the center of the action. They are making it happen. They get the adrenaline rush of urgent heroic problem-solving that saves the day for their poor team.
But here’s the rub. Leaders spend much less time personally solving problems. They invest their time in making sure that the right problems are being solved. Here’s how we might rewrite the Batman script for a leader rather than a heroic manager:
Batman arrives in the batmobile, gets out with Robin, takes off his mask, and generates a process by which the people of Gotham City face the problems and solve the crisis for themselves. He gets to know the people and matches their strengths and abilities to established performance targets. After seeing them through the crisis, he sees off the Joker, gets back in his car, drives off and hears the people of Gotham say “We solved this ourselves.”
When the next problem arose, the people of Gotham might still call for Batman, but as an advisor; they would be more likely to handle the crisis within the team. Each time they handled their own problems, they would increase their ability to identify and eliminate the root causes, their capacity to work as a team, and their level of confidence. Eventually, Bruce Wayne would become one of the team and help the city clean up, making the enemies turn tail and fade away.
But most managers do not relish this second option. Heading off problems and solving root causes leads to less pressure-packed “excitement.” Getting teams to share the workload and become more self-sufficient reduces the short-term adrenaline rush. It totally shifts the team leader’s role and focus.
The fact is that your team needs both management and leadership. Ultimately it depends on the situation. There are times when the manager needs to drive into the situation, take control, issue commands, and solve the problem immediately. Indeed, to do otherwise in such cases might be seen as an abdication of responsibility. But such actions are generally needed only as a short-term response in times of crisis. If managers stay in crisis mode continuously, they weaken their teams, increase their own workload, multiply dependence on them, kill commitment and ownership, and reduce partnering. Personal, team, and organisation growth is affected.
Having a leader mindset means taking the situation and letting the team take charge, while building a quality base on which to build a solid foundation of growth. Believe in making a difference by helping the team become the kind of people who take responsibility. That would make you a great modern-day leader who helps others to be inspired to take ownership.
Head of Training