Successful Working Managers Relentlessly Prioritize, Invest in People, and Delegate
“I’m a working manager – not that all managers aren’t working, but I have an enormous pile of my work, besides having to lead my team. I constantly feel guilty that I’m not doing enough for them, but if I let my work go, our results will suffer. What should I do?”
What is a working manager?
A working manager is someone who has significant individual responsibilities in addition to leading their team. They have work assigned to them they can’t delegate.
Sometimes this is because of the technical nature of the job or a unique skill set they bring. And sometimes, it’s just a matter of workload. There’s not enough budget for a manager, so the business elevates one team member as a guide, while they also do the work. Not ideal, but it’s a reality in many organizations.
If that sounds familiar, this article is for you.
8 Practical Ways to Be a Better Working Manager
- Set Clear Expectations for Your Team
- Relentlessly Prioritize
- Invest in Your Team
- Delegate Effectively
- Communicate Reliably
- Practice Rapid Accountability
- Lead Up
- Take Care of You
1. Set Clear Expectations for Your Team
As a team leader, it’s always important to establish a clear understanding of what success looks like. Even more so when you can’t meet everyone’s assumptions. Make sure your team knows what everyone can fairly expect from one another. What you expect of them, what they can expect from you, and from each other. As a working manager, sometimes you’ll need to shut your open door, to focus and finish an assignment.
Talk with your team about what they need (and what you need), and work together to determine the best way to approach for your individual and collaborative work.
2. Relentlessly Prioritize
As a working manager, it’s challenging to balance your own responsibilities with those of your team. To manage this overwhelm, Mind the M.I.T. (Most Important Thing) and relentlessly prioritize what matters most. You can’t possibly do everything – and you probably can’t even do all the important tasks. Ultimately, you only have time to do what matters most. So free yourself from the feeling that you must do it all and focus your energy on making a real difference.
Decide which tasks are most important and focus on those first so you can make your day a success in the first two hours. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you’re meeting your own goals while also supporting your team. As the day goes on and the next crisis comes along, re-prioritize. You only have time for what matters most. Make sure you know what that is.
3. Invest in Your Team
The more effective and skilled your team is, the more you’ll accomplish together. You’ll have more time to do the work where you truly are the only one who can do it. So, as you choose your priorities for the week, consistently look for ways to invest in your team. There are two ways to do this: micro-engagements and formal development.
When time is tight, you don’t want to waste time encouraging someone who needs to be stretched or coaching someone who just needs more confidence. Use the Confidence-Competence Matrix to identify what your team members most need from you (Training, Encouragement, Challenge, or Coaching). Then, in your one-on-ones or daily interactions, be prepared to support them with a focused conversation that gives them what they need.
The second way to invest is with more formal development. What does this person need in order to get where they want to go? Or to become what they can be? You can spend 15 minutes each week thinking about your team and connecting them with one growth opportunity each month. Those small, formal investments yield massive returns in their growth and development. Where can you teach them a new skill? Help them build relationships throughout the organization so they can be more resourceful? Get them an assignment that helps them stretch or practice leadership?
4. Delegate Effectively
You can probably delegate far more than you believe. This will not only help you manage your workload, but also empower your team and help them develop new skills. Delegating effectively takes some preparation that can feel like a luxury for a working manager. But it’s not a luxury; it’s a vital investment. For many activities, you’ll need to take time to think through what a successful outcome will achieve. Give your team member the success criteria so they know what they’re aiming for and can evaluate their work against them. For more, check out How to Delegate So Nothing Falls Through the Cracks
5. Communicate Reliably
Miscommunication will crush your soul. You don’t have time to waste fixing misunderstandings and resolving miscommunication. You can make effective communication a feature of your team in two ways. First, create a reliable communication cadence. Second, teach everyone to check for understanding. A reliable communication cadence helps your team know exactly when to expect new information. They’ll also know when they can most effectively bring concerns, ask questions, and share their answers. Get clear about what information they will exchange in chat threads, emails, and what to reserve for meetings – and when those meetings will happen.
Next, teach them to check for understanding (and practice it yourself). Clear, mutually understood communication will reclaim significant time for you and your team. And they’ll spend less time in fruitless meetings.
6. Practice Rapid Accountability
One common mistake many working managers make is that they avoid performance feedback conversations. You might worry you don’t have time. You can’t afford to lose the person. But what actually happens is that the mistakes compound. Top performers get frustrated. And now you’re spending way more time cleaning up messes, fixing problems, and doing last-minute work that someone else should have done.
Short, timely performance conversations will reclaim your time, improve your team’s morale, and help everyone be their best. You can use our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. Method to have these conversations in a way that builds trust and achieves results.
7. Lead Up
Your manager isn’t trying to crush your spirit.
But they may not know the reality of what’s happening to you and your team. One of the most important conversations you can have is to “lead up.” In these conversations, practice “saying yes to say no.” Reiterate your commitment to what matters most and outline the decisions you face.
For example, “We are all in on getting this product launch done on time and on spec. We’ve also been asked to help support some bug fixes in the prior versions. With the existing team, we can’t do both. I see a couple of options here. I can bring in some contractors to help, we can slide the launch date, we can ask someone else to do the prior version support, or we could just not worry about supporting prior versions. What are your thoughts?”
In your one-on-one conversations with your manager, you can also clarify what success looks like for your leadership. What does your team need to achieve? How does your manager view your leadership vs work responsibilities? If the two of you have very different perspectives, you can talk about what’s happening and where to adjust.
8. Take Care of You
Finally, it’s important to take time for self-care. Sometimes, sleep is the M.I.T. Or time with family, friends, or a good book. Or the gym or a hiking trail. As a working manager, it’s easy to get caught up in the demands of your job and neglect your own well-being. But nothing gets easier when you’re run down, exhausted, and stressed out. Investing time and energy in yourself will help you do everything else with more love, perspective, and creativity.
Being a team leader who is also a working manager can be challenging. But with the right mindset, communication, and tools, it’s possible to balance your individual work and team leadership responsibilities. We’d love to hear from you: how do you manage the challenges of leading your team and doing the work that’s your responsibility?