Striving For Leadership Rather Than Management

Whether working with, consulting for, or even just talking to managers and principals of small AV companies — while they can have unique features about them — broadly speaking they’re more similar than they are different.

One of the most common similarities is that the principal or general manager of an AV company needs to be a jack-of-all-trades. They need to know as much or more about each aspect of their team’s jobs as they do. Install, programming, design, project management, etc. and, everything, really. In order to effectively manage, it’s necessary to know what needs to be done.

That’s true to a lesser degree to everyone on the team, it’s just more so for the boss. Specialization is necessary and team member’s job descriptions should be distinct, but with a small company, it’s almost inevitable that upon occasion someone will have to play shortstop, and take on someone else’s tasks.

In fact, if you’re in charge it’s essential to be able to do that. It’s central to good leadership that the majority of the time you have enough trust in the quality of the work your team delivers that you can let go and let them do what they excel at during the daily routine so that you can focus on long term, big-picture thinking.

Getting bogged down in the day-to-day, and going from one short-term issue to another makes it much harder to maintain a long-term outlook.

Circling back to my earlier point, among all the dealer principals and general managers I’ve known, the best ones demonstrate a knack for knowing when to delegate to their team members and knowing when to grab their tool belt and do things themselves. Ideally, most of the time it’s going to be the latter.

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Most of the time it’s essential to have your team focus on what they’re best at. All else being equal and not to get too philosophical about it, salespeople need to sell, designers need to design, and project managers need to manage. Overlap and covering off is going to happen with small firms, but it should be the exception rather than the rule. And when it does come time for someone to play outside their normal role, I probably should be the boss. Not only are they most qualified to do it (and if they’re not that’s something to work on), but it has a positive impact on the overall work ethic and culture of the company.

It’s superficially easy to observe that a manager has “a knack” for knowing when to get involved, but what does that really look like? Honestly, it’s about having a process for making that decision. I was trained to manage my time by using checklists.

Labeling them is an individual choice, but the one I’ve always relied on was to break down what’s required of me into four categories: urgent and important; urgent and not important; important and not urgent; and neither urgent nor important.

By assigning each task to one of those categories, I made far better use of my time and got more accomplished, than just treating everything as a disaster that needs immediate intervention.

Something that was said to me long ago was that “leaders lead, managers just manage.” Knowing when it’s time for one or the other is a key component of doing just that.