The fact is that great leaders accomplish great things with no more time available than any others. Unfortunately, the way we did things earlier in our careers is the very thing that may hinder us later in our careers when workload and scope change. Here are some of the components that will allow you to perfect the Art of Pushing Back:
Responsible to and responsible for
This is a principle that is extremely valuable, and one that is applicable to most environments and contexts. There is a difference between what you are ‘responsible to do’, and what you are ‘responsible for’. Most leaders err on the side of assuming that they are responsible for everything, rather than understanding that, in many situations, they simply have a responsibility to do something. Start by identifying what really counts for you. What exactly are you ‘responsible for’? What exactly are you required to achieve? In all other instances, ask what you are ‘responsible to do’. What response is required? This is where, for many, things go horribly wrong. Saying “No, I don’t have time”, “I will be unable to attend”, “Rather speak to so-and-so” or “I simply won’t get to that” is a completely appropriate response to what comes your way, but for which you are not responsible for.
Train those around you
In other words, manage their expectations – not just once or with regard to a particular issue, but over time concerning all issues. We create an environment in which we have trained those around us to expect that we will deliver on their requests or delegations. We create an unspoken rule structure that implies that we will get it done. Interestingly, when you begin to push back, you will find that the world does not fall apart and that people become grown-ups capable of taking responsibility themselves. The key is to continually reinforce this kind of behaviour so that it becomes the rule. We are our own worst enemies in this regard. Early on in most successful peoples’ careers they learnt the value of taking responsibility for just about anything, and about the positive feedback and reward associated with this. In fact, many will view their rise up the corporate ladder as the direct result of just taking responsibility and getting it done. Later on in their careers, however, this behaviour becomes dangerous and inappropriate. What served them well in one season of their lives may hurt in another.
Capability does not imply responsibility
Just because you have the ability to respond does not mean it is yours to do so. As a seasoned leader in any given environment, it is to be expected that there will be many situations in which it would seem that you are the best person to take on the job. Being the most capable and experienced suggests that you will frequently be the first port of call with regard to any number of issues that affect your domain; however, this does not imply that you should volunteer or accept. Being the most qualified does not mean that a particular task requires the expertise of the most qualified. Remember that others rising up through the ranks would revel in the opportunity, as you too were afforded at one time. Learn to trust and take a chance on the right people – not to do it exactly the way you would, but to do it well nonetheless.
Strive for excellence, not perfection
Perfection is based on your perception and innately disqualifies others from being involved. I, too, view myself as a perfectionist. In the right contexts and environments there is nothing wrong with that. If, however, I begin to assume that my view on what is perfect should be shared by those around me, I will limit my reach and output. Excellence is a far more appropriate expectation within a larger social system. It allows all to participate, yet still demands a standard of work in keeping with the original intent.
Influence versus control
Finally, it is important to clearly identify what is within and what is outside of your control. Many leaders get tripped up at this point because they confuse influence with control. Just because your position allows you to have influence in a particular area or context, this does not mean you should exert it. Carefully determine where your influence is worth your while, remembering that, when you begin to exert influence, the chances are strong that you will end up taking at least some of the responsibility – which translates into workload or at least time expenditure. Those with new-found influence in organisations often get a rush out of seeing how, where, and with whom they can exert it. Seasoned leaders have the wisdom to use their influence in a circumspect manner, as exerting influence inevitably means having to do more on things that really aren’t the core to the achievement of their particular goals.
In Black & White
The workload among executives these days literally seems impossible to complete. Most barely manage the workload, let alone make significant strides in terms of achieving objectives. Many have commented that it seems the day will never come when they will get all of their work done. This is compounded by the fact that, generally, we go to the office to attend meetings, and our job has to be squeezed into the spaces in between – and invariably flows into our evenings and weekends.
The performance culture among leaders in the corporate world also suggests an infinite sense of obligation, a mantra of ‘the buck stops with me’, and a belief that they are there to keep the lights on in the company. The results of this kind of thinking include: an inability to clearly define achievements; stressed and strained relationships in the workplace; failure to meet deadlines and commitments; and the degradation of personal and family interests. To be blunt, the quality of one’s life is hugely diminished.
Mark Holtshausen - The Art of Pushing Back