Time to Give Your To-Do List to Someone Else

If you’re reading this, chances are you have a “to-do” list. You know how it gets compiled. Something occurs to you. Onto the bottom of the list it goes. In no particular order, just one of those things that need to get done. The years pass. The list ebbs and flows but the constant presence is a set of tasks that you have assigned a priority to. Once these tasks are on the list, they stand as a silent accuser of your work ethic until they’re crossed off.

The to-do list makes us busy. Very busy. Probably busier than we were last year. Busier than we’ve ever been. This means we start to lose sight of what it is that makes us a leader. The nature of the ‘to-do’ list is compelling and comforting. When a task is ticked off, it’s done, complete. Progress has been made. We have achieved something. It’s certain.

manager-delegatingBut this is a problem for true leadership because it’s different from just management. Leadership is about ambiguity, using judgment to bring order to unstructured situations. This is often about dealing with the illogical. Leadership cannot be just about what’s logical. It needs to include perceptions and emotions. It requires leaders to accept that illogic is at least part of their job. Management is more about certainty. There’s a right answer and it’s at the back of the book.

Ambiguity is everywhere in leadership because teams have all types of people and a mixture of skills. Everyone’s motivation is different. The leader’s job is to create a common set of values, a culture and shared sense of excitement. This means keeping a culture in balance. Very seldom does any leader have team balance as a goal. This is because it can never be achieved.

But this is where leadership has become too imbalanced. There’s too much concentration on the leader and not the ‘-ship’. The leader doesn’t have to be the smartest person in the room. The leader’s job is to make everyone else feel like they’re the smartest person in the room. The leader is there to get the best out of the team, not just themselves.

This is where male confidence is of interest in identifying leadership. All of the research points to the fact that confidence is often correlated with competence. This is a dangerous assumption because it’s readily biased towards men who are superficially at least more confident.

Research for instance, points specifically to the fact that women are much more likely to collaborate and sacrifice personal goals for those of their team. Men, it seems from research, are wired to do the opposite. This is much more geared towards the achievement of personal goals.

This is no accident. The model of the infallible leader is passed down to us from Jesus to Steve Jobs. It is the belief that their teams never matter. Only the leader matters. This (often male) egocentric view of infallibility has wreaked enormous damage.

This is not about male or female genders. There are different centers of excellence, but the point about leadership is that it needs to be inclusive. This is not just a matter of social justice but true organizational efficiency.

At the heart of inclusivity is a set of values. By their nature, they can never be achieved as a one-off but repeatedly targeted. In a similar way, balance can be a definable goal, but mostly having a ‘to-be’ list is much less comfortable.

Why does this matter? Because of something simple. When you ask parents to describe themselves in context of their children they are specific. “I get them up in the morning. I drive them to school. I help with their homework.” When you ask people to describe their parents, they say they were loving or reassuring or restless or inspirational or crazy. Both sets of responses have something in common. The former can only be done. The latter can only be. Values can only be. Your team is not assessing you on the ‘to-do’ list. They want to know who you are.

Chris Lewis

Chris Lewis

Chris Lewis is co-author, with Pippa Malmgrem, of The Leadership Lab:  Understanding Leadership In The 21st Century. Lewis, a former journalist, is founder of one of the largest creative agencies in the world, LEWIS. Founded in 1995, his practice now encompasses more than 25 offices and 500 staff. He is British, but splits his time between Britain and America. For more information, please visit here.

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