Now is not the time for the dominant logic surrounding managing and leading to prevail. That’s how we got here, and “here” isn’t so great. It’s time to break and replace the old rules of managing and leading.

It’s essential we find better ways to inspire, motivate, and engage great people who want to make a difference in our organizations. To do this, we need to kick a lot of old, bad practices to the curb and replace them with techniques designed to draw the best out of people. We need to think differently.

Getting This Right is Personal

In 1,000+ hours of coaching and leading workshops every year, I learn about the frustrations good people have with bad management practices and lousy managers holding back innovation, collaboration, and team and individual achievement.

While I would like to metaphorically shake top leaders and challenge them to open their eyes to these lousy practices in the messy middle of their organizations and do something about it, that’s mostly not practical. Top leaders tend to hold a narrow, naive viewpoint about how work moves forward and how those charged with managing and leading are fulfilling their roles.

Note: I’ve been there and I know how easy it is to get caught in the echo chamber of top management dialog and issues and lose track of the work that keeps things moving day in and day out.

This rarefied air viewpoint held by top leaders must change, yet the real revolution can and will happen closer to where the work takes place.

Frontline and middle managers have more agency than they perceive in making positive changes in leadership and management practices.

Here’s a list of areas to focus on immediately. If you happen to be in top management, find ways to help everyone else challenge convention and bring the practices essential for organizational leveling up to life.

12 Starter Areas Where It Pays to Think and Act Differently

1. Stop relying on open-door communication practices.

Instead, learn to flex to the communication needs of your team members and meet them on their terms.

2. Jettison the horrendous approaches we use for goal setting.

A goal must promote learning AND organizational improvement. Most goals are tactical, focused on targets, or mild enhancements of “table-stakes” activities. Too often, the goals are driven by an HR-supplied template that over-complicates or dumbs down the process. Instead, isolate one or two significant commitments that push the individual to learn and grow and ultimately move the need for something important to the organization.

Rethink your approach to your goals. Then, model the behavior and teach your team members to leverage these powerful tools for learning and growth.

3. Teach people to engage in relationship building to get things done.

The silo mentality and the taboo against skipping levels to seek advocacy are vestiges of yesterday’s approach to managing. Teach individuals to network with intent. Help them learn to communicate and share their ideas. Encourage people to develop relationships with those who decide what gets done and who does what and let their voices and ideas be heard. Yes, all of this is about growing influence. I advocate doing this with a “clean power” approach.

4. Mix up idea generation approaches to generate more and better ideas.

Ideas are the lifeblood of change, innovation, and problem-solving. Break with the old, bad approaches to generating ideas and introduce nominal group techniques, timed sprints, and brain-writing processes that improve both quantity and quality of idea generation.

5. Stop giving or accepting blind, no-context targets as absolutes.

If the numbers or targets don’t give context to “Why” for every person involved, they are ineffective. Instead, make sure you can connect what you are being asked to do to the bigger picture of the organization’s strategy. If needed, stop and ask for context until you can connect the dots.

6. Kill the meeting overload culture.

This is one of the top complaints of many of my clients. “I sit in endless meetings called by my manager in what are unproductive sessions intended to educate him on what we are doing,” offered one client. Instead, hold every meeting accountable for proving and living up to a standard of value. Assume a meeting is guilty until proven innocent and needed.  Engage with meeting creators to uncover their true interests and strive to help. Just don’t think that attending yet another meeting is the only or best way to help.

7. Quit making people walk on hot coals to earn trust.

Trust is the lifeblood of performance. Throw out the old, slow way of cultivating trust with team members in favor of swift trust. It takes a bit of courage, but the improved time-to-trust leads to accelerated time-to-performance.

8. Teach people to run toward challenging conversations.

Prioritize challenging conversations first and recognize these are where problems are solved, new ideas are born, relationships cultivated, and progress made.

9. Don’t assume anyone knows what their job as a leader is.

Start asking your team members what they need from you. Seriously. HR doesn’t know. Your boss doesn’t know. And by the way, what your team members need from you changes over time and with conditions.

10. No one gets to manage and lead others without tuning in to their Why.

Stop blindly moving people into roles responsible for the work of others without giving them room to discover what the role is about and address why they want to do this work. Make sure your new managers build strong foundations. Don’t forget to strengthen yours along the way.

11. Stop looking to just your customers for ideas to innovate.

Teach them to start looking for ideas far from your current industries, customers, and prevailing business model. The real changes will hit you from the fringes.

12. Don’t expect a team to generate magic without help.

Quit expected loose, disjointed groups falsely labeled as teams to produce anything meaningful and start structuring and coaching teams that perform.

There’s more, but that’s a good starter list.

And yes, each of those items comes with a very different (research-backed, practitioner-experienced) approach to the critical work of managing and leading effectively in this world. The key is to begin experimenting with the ideas and techniques and break out of the rut of old management practices anchoring you to a world that’s not coming back.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

For those operating on the frontlines or in the middle, you’ve never had better cover than current conditions to throw out old, lousy management practices. This revolution in adapting management and leadership practices for a new world and scrapping the rules that attempted to turn people into machine parts must start on the front lines and be waged in the middle of our organizations. Don’t wait for top management to lead the way.

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