Ken was a very successful project manager. Every project assigned to him was done on time and usually under budget. By all measures, Ken should have been the star project manager, but no one wanted to work with him. Ken was a bully. He achieved results through threats, abusive management, and at times questionable ethics.
Ken excelled at the what’s: the results expected of him. He failed at the how’s: the way he got results. Effective leadership requires excellence in both the what’s and the how’s.
Balancing the what’s and the how’s is a challenge because every leader has to find the balance that works for him/her. There is no genetic trait that gives anyone an advantage in finding this balance. Rather the balance can only be achieved with a lot of trial and error and personal reflection.
However there are some things you can do to get to the balance that works for you:
- Use every assignment to discover the structural approach you need to achieve the what’s. Start creating a portfolio of what you did on the assignment. The portfolio should have two columns: What worked well and what could I have done better. Then create a checklist you want to use for your next assignment. While every assignment will be different, you may be able to keep reducing the what uncertainty to a minimal level as you do more assignments.
- The above recommendation requires a lot of practice with reflection. Your job may not have enough experiences to hone your skills of reflection. Take a hobby that you have (e.g. video games, cooking, crossword puzzles) and practice the art of reflection on your hobby. You will soon discover how to use reflection to enhance your what skills.
- The how skills are principled based: what is acceptable and unacceptable to you in getting the results you want to achieve. These principles won’t mean anything to you unless you write them down. You should think of these principles along the following dimensions:
- How you treat others
- How you approach a challenge
- The moral/ethical basis of your decision making process
- How you approach risk taking
These principles should be thought of as a work in progress. As you encounter new experiences, you will want to add principles you used to manage these experiences.
- Use both the what check list and the how principles to guide those you work with. When you make these visible to others, this will help reinforce how you balance the what’s and how’s.
Ultimately how you balance the what’s and how’s will be the image that others have of you. You can be a wonderful mentor for others or create examples that others don’t want to follow.