Boxes and responsibility

Leadership is something I'm very new to. I know very little about what I'm doing when I'm in a position of leadership but I'm learning more and more about it every day.

I was recently on the phone to a friend who is also slowly stepping into my leadership. We were talking about the differences between being a manager, and being a leader. Mid way I summed up our current line of discussion as the following.

Managers dish out tasks, leaders dish out responsibility.

To me, this is sort of the equivalent of proposing some mathematical proof in terms of n. So while were discuss that I came up with an analogy that I thought fits quite well.

Leaders treat their team like lots of little black-boxes. Each black-box has a series of inputs and outputs (IOs). In the context of a team in a business, this is what a job description should describe.

As leaders we should be helping to define those IOs. As leaders we should be tweaking them if needed and making sure that multiple team members IOs slot together well. The communication and transitions between these IOs are the "interface" layers and that's where leaders will spend most of their time.

This is a big contrast to a "manager" who will hand out tasks and focus on the way people process them. Managers define the inner boxes themselves and so the team essentially turn into just labour or workers. This is a huge stress on the manager and will often leave the team feeling unchallenged and not trusted.

*---||---*
|        |
| Olivia |
|        |
*-||--||-*
*-||--||-*
|        |
| Alicia |
|        |
*-||--||-*
*---||---*
|        |
| Robert |
|        |
*-||--||-*

The diagram above makes demonstrates it in very simple terms.

  • Olivia expects to be given one thing, and from that generates two things.
  • Alicia expects those two things from Olivia and generates a further two things.
  • Robert expects one thing from Alicia and generates two things.

We've got a clear miss-match between Alicia and Robert here and that could cause issues.

Now in reality we can't map things this simply. However it does get us thinking about how our team members interface with each other, and how our team interfaces with other teams. Just like in a machine, if parts aren't lined up correctly we can get friction.

Notice in this process we don't care how Olivia, Alice, or Robert process that work. We simply want the IOs and timings to line up. Again, in reality this isn't always the case but when we give people ownership over their own workflows and processes they are much more likely to work well and work happily.

So, consider how your team links together. How do they link to other teams? What expectations are being missed, how can you highlight those? Are you dishing out responsibility rather than tasks?