Managing through leadership – Dee Hock

I was cleaning out some back issues of management magazines recently when I came across this piece in Fast Company in 1996 by Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, on leadership.

“Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself — your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you “work for” to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms “work for” advisedly, for if you don’t understand that you should be working for your mislabeled “subordinates,” you haven’t understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.”

What struck me about this piece, and I confess over the years I have often forgotten this advice. At no time does Dee talk about managing the people on your team. He talks about managing yourself, about managing those you report to and about managing your peers. He suggests that if you spend your time doing this then the people on your team will be free to get on with the job.

So who are these stakeholders in your leadership/management quest. You personally. How well do you understand and acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses? How well do you form alliances with people that have the strengths to counterbalance your weaknesses? How well do you recognise when your negative emotions and thoughts are driving your behaviour and the impact that is having upon others? What are you doing every day to strengthen the things you do well and change the things you do badly? If all that doesn’t take up 40% of your time then I don’t know what else will.

How do you manage those with authority over you? Firstly you must understand what their role is and what it is they need to perform their role. Your job is to provide them with information, which in turn provides them with reassurance that everything is on track. When you do this in an honest manner, with integrity the level of stress is reduced and those above you can lift their head a little and look forward to the future.

Your peers are your influencers and enablers. The key to managing peers is to form effective working relationships with them. Again you must understand the role and needs of each peer and you must understand how your role contributes to their success and their role contributes to your success. This is collaboration at the highest level. Your team is not an island. It cannot function in a silo. Dee Hock suggests spending 15% of your time on this activity. I would suggest that if every manager spent 15% of their time on this activity then the entire management consulting sector would cease to be needed!

This leaves 15% of your time to do what? Well firstly you have core tasks that only you can do. This is the time for them. Secondly, you have to invest time in developing the potential of people in your team through setting clear expectations, delegation, performance management, coaching, mentoring, supervision and facilitating conversations that lead to greater collaboration.

After all that you get to go home at the end of the day. You get to pat the dog, talk to your kids about their day, spend a few precious moments with your wife or partner, eat dinner, work out how to pay some bills and how to get out of the gardening in the weekend and then some sleep – for tomorrow, you get to do this all over again.

Does all this make you feel depressed, tired, negative or dismissive? If so, its time to find something else to do.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Let The Journey Continue

John Coxon


About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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