The Missing Pieces


Business books, particularly ones focused on leadership and managing, are among the very top bestsellers in bookdom. One of the top bestsellers right at the moment is Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. There are also always the perennial favorites, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, and Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson.

You’d think there would be better leaders and awesome managers with all the copies of leadership and management books – but no.

Just as it’s tough to learn how to cook from a cookbook or how to draw from a drawing book (the example above is an exaggeration, but still – I swear I’ve gotten instructions like this before), learning to lead a team, a company, or a project takes more than reading books.

How have you learned to lead? How much from books? From other people? From school? From other experiences?

As a middle manager, where have you found the missing pieces and are there pieces still missing?

Smarter, not Harder

Dogbert the Generic Manager

There’s a reason why an enormous amount of Dilbert cartoons deal with ‘working smarter, not harder’. I’m confessing to a personal pet peeve here shared (I think) by many managers. It implies that I wasn’t working smart (seriously? Like I enjoy working dumb?) and my hard work was time wasted. Okay, maybe I’m being oversensitive here, but let’s talk about better ways to coach yourself and others to truly work smarter, not harder.

  • Diagnose the problem – Is there truly an overload of work? And if so why? Consider the factors of time, resources, skill, and support. What’s missing or lower than it should be to accomplish the project?
  • Inform – Communicate and collaborate to get agreement on the priorities. Ask for assistance where needed. Tell the team what you’re doing so they can plan their work accordingly
  • Delegate or contract – Move things that can be done by others to others. Eliminate unnecessary tasks or portions of the project
  • Get to work – All the above will only get you so far. After doing all that, get to the tasks at hand and start moving

Though not like this:


More like this:


Sidekick or Superhero?


Nobody wanted to be the sidekick when we were kids playing at the park. Jumping over hot lava and alligator pits at the playground (didn’t you have those under the monkey bars?) –  it was important for all of us to be superheroes.

Growing up and working, making decisions, and jumping over symbolic hot lava, I’ve realized that either having sidekicks or being a great one is crucial. There’s a reason why the term “trusty sidekick” was born.  And let’s be honest – managers in the middle end up being sidekicks more than heroes.

If you’re a hero, a great sidekick has your back, shore up your weak points, and make you explain your thinking.

If you’re a sidekick, appreciate that you bring unique perspectives to the job, you extend the reach of the hero, and you make your hero look good. If you’ve got a good hero (and not an evil super villain), you’re supported, protected, and appreciated.

For fun, here are some heroes and their sidekicks:

  • Batman/Robin
  • Don Quixote/Sancho Panza
  • The Green Hornet/Kato
  • Mr. Incredible/Frozone
  • Iron Man/Lt Col James Rhodey
  • Captain Kirk/Spock
  • Bilbo Baggins/Samwise Gamgee
  • Harry Potter/ Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley
  • Wallace/Gromit
  • The Lone Ranger/Tonto
  • Winnie the Pooh/Piglet
  • Charle Bucket/Grandpa Joe
  • Johnny Carson/Ed McMahon
  • Sherlock Holmes/Watson
  • Oberon/Puck
  • Maverick/Goose
  • Fred Flintstone/Barney Rubble
  • Spongebob/Patrick
  • Andy Taylor/Barney Fife
  • Sheriff Woody/Buzz Lightyear
  • Shrek/Donkey
  • Han Solo/Chewbacca

This is by no means an all inclusive list.   Got any others?


All work and no play

The phrase “work life balance” used to get thrown around quite a bit. No one successful seemed to have it unless they were individuals at the tippy top of the organization – flying around in private jets to private islands with private yachts. This balance was incentive to prioritize, delegate, and use time more wisely. Despite getting better at prioritizing, delegating, and using time more wisely,  I found finding work life balance as infuriating as “work smarter, not harder” – as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

We’re now connected to work – and to life – in a wholly different way. I can sneak a peek in on my friends on Facebook from my laptop in the middle of a mind numbing conference call. I check and answer work emails from Asia before I go to bed because it’s morning for them, though night for me. Technology and the changing ways of managing and leading require us to integrate and prioritize work and life in a different way.

For more thoughts on integration, go here.

Workforce myths busted here.

And finally, for a chuckle on your Friday, watch what a conference call in real life might look like here.