By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.
Admittedly, this title deserves some clarification. We’re not focusing on conflict between front-line or mid-level leaders and upper management about what to do or how to do it, though those too are undeniably common. Instead, we’re interested in the tense battle raging WITHIN individual leaders, pitting their responsibilities to coach, develop, and influence employees against their simultaneous accountabilities to coordinate, plan, and make decisions on behalf of the business unit. Every minute spent on one is a minute stolen from the other.
Though these competing forces have always existed – at least for anyone who has others reporting to them while they in turn report to someone else – it’s easy to see how both pressures continue to escalate, with potentially damaging effects. Employee expectations for leader face time and high-quality interaction skills certainly haven’t lightened, yet neither have demands to achieve aggressive objectives and meet tight timelines in the midst of a complex and rapidly-changing business environment.
Even the hardest-working leader inevitably runs out of hours to adequately fulfill both of these responsibilities – something has to give when these pressures converge, with the leader at the pinch point. The question of what gets sacrificed, whether the leader’s own preferences matter, and what are the consequences, is a key topic for our currently-active 2013 | 2014 Global Leadership Forecast.
We are asking leaders in participating organizations to first consider activities best described as interacting with employees – coaching, influencing, and team-building; and second, those characteristic of managing a work group’s tasks – planning, coordinating, and decision-making. We’re then asking three questions…
- Where do you actually spend your time?
- Where would you prefer to spend your time?
- Which activities are most valued by the organization?
…and for each, is the answer “more interacting”, “more managing”, or “approximately equal”?
What do we hope to find? First, we hope to learn what‘s “typical” – on this continuum between interacting and managing, where are most leaders clustered? And, what do leaders at different points have in common? Are distinctions driven more by individual characteristics such as generation, leader level, or tenure, or by contextual factors such as industry, company size, or culture?
Next, we want to know – does it matter? What leader skills are linked to higher proportions of time and stronger preferences for managing versus interacting? Do leaders possessing stronger capabilities in, for example, building consensus and commitment, seek more opportunities to leverage those strengths, as compared to those whose skill profile emphasizes managing resources and budgets?
And of course, the gap between preference and actual time spent – regardless of the direction a particular leader gravitates, his or her organization may not see it the same way, and may actually steer the role in the opposite direction. Organizational values and rewards may further drive a wedge between what leaders naturally choose to do and what they are compelled to do by their accountabilities. We’ll connect the size of this gap to engagement, retention, and other key leader-level outcomes.
Consider your own organization - how are YOUR leaders pressured to spend their time? Is this what they really want? What are the commonalities among those who would tend to, if given the choice, focus on personally interacting with employees, or conversely, among those who would just as soon approach every task as a strictly managerial rather than an interpersonal activity?
We want to hear from YOU in the Comments section - what do you think we’ll find when looking across thousands of global leaders? Tell us what trends you foresee, and most importantly, WHY – help shape predictions for this interacting versus managing quandary: what these differences mean for the individual leader and the organization as a whole. Or, if you suspect we won’t find any notable impact at all, let us know that too!
We’d also like you and your organization to join the data collection itself to see where your own leaders fall on this continuum, what it means, and ideas for what practical next steps to take as a result – if you have at least one HR professional and 30 leaders completing the Global Leadership Forecast surveys, your organization will receive a customized report benchmarking your organization against your peers on this topic as just one of many insightful, actionable findings. Join the 2013|2014 Global Leadership Forecast now!
Evan Sinar, Ph.D., is Director of DDI's Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER) and Chief Scientist.