The Dilemma of the Working Manager

Balancing “Working On” and “Working In” the Business.

Effective working managers are adept at managing polarities – strategy vs. tactics, planning vs. executing, delegating vs. doing. Ralph and Bill discuss the challenges that many working managers face, and offer tips and exercises to help you achieve balance and scale your leadership and your business.

Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast where we discussed contemporary topics of leadership teams and organizational effectiveness. I’m Bill Berthel

Ralph Simone: and I’m Ralph Simone.

Bill Berthel: Ralph, we’ve got a great topic. I think this is going to appeal to every listener today. The dilemma of the working manager balancing, working on and working in the business.

What does that even mean? Working on. And in the business?

Ralph Simone: Great question. You know, a lot of our people’s work involves getting people to think strategically relationship management, communicating direction. Those are the things that are more aligned with working on the business. You know, if we, if we put it into, Stephen Covey speak in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, those would be the not urgent but important activities.

If we’re gonna really scale our business and stay ahead of the curve, we have to invest time and energy on working on the business activities versus working in the business, which are the day to day tactical actions that were required to do to, uh, make products or create reports or write books, right.

That’s the day to day stuff. So that’s the distinction.

Bill Berthel: And so few working leaders or managers today are able to just work in one of those areas.

Ralph Simone: Yeah. And I, I don’t even know if that’s the desired state. Right? But, but what we do find is when we’re working. Leaders as coaches, they struggle with finding time and energy to work on the business.

And I think one of the problem I’ll use that word is this is not a problem to be solved. Right. This is what we were refer to as a polarity to be managed. So when you think about strategic and tactical work, those are two interdependent values. It’s not one or the other for the long term success of an enterprise.

And so as we look at that relationship, we wanna optimize spending enough energy and time in strategic activities working on with optimizing spending enough time and energy on tactical activities working in. And, you know, I think maybe we should provide, you know, some examples like in our work. Right. I think working on the business would be the strategic planning that we do.

I think it would even be the podcasts that we create. Absolutely. But working in is our, you know, day to day, you know, coaching, absolutely coaching. What, what else would be some examples in our business Bill? Yeah.

Bill Berthel: Well, the day-to-day and I, I almost don’t like the word tactical here, but it is tactical cuz it’s um, the training that we do, the consulting that we do and the coaching, really, those are the three you know, legs to our table or our stool in our business that would be working in the business. The working on like you shared is the longer-term strategic and what’s so key is just the way you shared it. You use the conjunction and, it’s not either. Or this is a both-and model? Leaders and managers need to do both.

Ralph Simone: And so the key is to find that sweet spot. And I, I like the example you gave. I mean, when we’re training or co anything, that’s billable in our work, when you’re saying this work is in the business. The things that allow us to look forward as to what our next offerings are. Our next targeted clients that’s on the business.

And so it’s really the key is to find that sweet spot where you can optimize both strategy or planning and execution the both and model and that, and I’m curious, bill, what guidance would we give people that are struggling with even this concept, right? This tension creative tension between working on and working in the business, what would we suggest?

Bill Berthel: Well, I think it’s just that it’s changing our mindset first to see it as a creative tension, not an either or proposition. It’s more from a, an abundance mindset that I’m going to optimize the upsides of both of these areas or in polarity management. We think of them both as the polls, if you will, and we’re gonna minimize the downside.

So we’re looking for, how do I maximize the effect of working on the business and in the business for my time and energy, my contribution to both of those areas.

Ralph Simone: Love it. And one specific idea, and we have it as part of our weekly planning process. It’s actually the seventh step is to do activity filtering. If I’m looking to create more space and time for working on the business, then I need to ask myself this question.

What can I delegate, automate, innovate, or. You know, cuz if we’re gonna move other things in, we have to move some things out. And if we can kind of change our mindset that by delegating something, it’s a development opportunity for somebody, right? By automating, we’re actually creating scale.

And by innovating, we’re constantly looking new in different ways and eliminate people get scared, cuz they say, well, I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t necessary. Well, maybe, but maybe it’s eliminating the activity for now. You may not be a permanent elimination.

Bill Berthel: There are sacred cows roaming around in most organizations and it’s scary, but I think we have to take that critical look at what am I doing?

How is it truly adding value? and how am I maximizing the upside of both of these polls? The other area I think is that we need to stop looking at our work as problems, problem solving. We’re trained so well through our education, through, um, our experiences in our jobs to be problem solvers. I’m not suggesting there aren’t problems to be solved in our work and in our organizations, there are problems to be solved.

However, if we’re always looking at opportunities, dilemmas as problems. We’re really missing the anabolic or positive energy we can get from having a more outcome based mindset. And what that looks like is the problem solving mindset is an oscillating mindset. We see a problem. We react and we behave. The outcome focused mindset, instead of reacting, we respond. And the difference is a response we’re utilizing our creative tension. We’re utilizing our creative tension to respond and then behave. We know we have a problem when the situation at hand will go away or truly be solved by our behavior, right. By our reaction in our behavior.

That might look something like choosing a restaurant to go to for dinner tonight. Right? There’s some choices we’ll make a choice. Problem solved. We’ll go out and have dinner. That’s resolved. It goes away. Dilemmas are more like paradoxes and that’s where polarity management comes in. We want to hold both items. And today we’re talking about working on and in the business at the same time and manage them so we’re optimizing the upside and minimizing the downsides of those. So it might look like how much time and energy do I spend working on or in the business. Mm-hmm compared to. Either or. It’s a, both and proposition.

Ralph Simone: This seems like a key concept in scaling your leadership or your teams or your organizations. And I couldn’t help but think about that old saying that if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So I think what we’re trying to equip leaders and managers with is this both and thinking. This idea that when we look at what we would describe is interdependent values, you know, strategy and tactics, planning and execution, doing and delegating that there is an optimizing process to be had if we look at these as polarities to be managed and not problems to be solved.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned scaling our leadership and that is relating and achieving, right. It’s the, uh, taking time to collaborate and work with others and relate using our emotional social intelligence and creating teams that have systems that has strategy that has vision as leaders and organizations we’re best serving our work and our people by dialing in the best appropriate ratio of both of those it’s both and.

Ralph Simone: You know, bill, I’m kind of curious, what would we identify as some of the indicators that a leader or an organization may be in balance between relating and achieving?

Bill Berthel: Oh, that’s fabulous. So I think, you know, I know you hear this from some of our clients. I hear it as well, or some leaders are feeling like they just can’t get to the long term work, the strategizing. They feel like they, and they’re not complaining, they enjoy some of the tactical work, but that they can’t find the time, make the time, you know, that’s the testimony we hear that they are maybe putting in too many hours doing tactical, almost like individual contributor work.

They know it, they feel it.

Ralph Simone: And so the typical strategy is they got a hammer. They’re just gonna put all of those other things on top of it and work longer hours and weekends or worse yet not get to them.

Bill Berthel: Uh, hammer. Yeah. They, they’ve got two air nailers in both hands and they’re, and they’re, you know, they’re, they’re, they’re doing it, they’re doing it.

Right. And, and that’s great. They’re getting stuff done, but they’re feeling the pain of not getting to working on the business long term strategy, the ability to be more thoughtful, creative, maybe it’s a little bit of innovation in their processes, whatever that is for their type of work.

Ralph Simone: Well, it’s having the space, right?

If you don’t have the space, it’s hard to be creative. It’s hard to think outside of the box, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re being constrained by the box. I think we have a couple of ideas, you know, in our weekly planning process, we actually ask the question and activity filtering, you know, what can you delegate, automate, innovate, or eliminate right.

Free up some space so that you can shift some of your energy to working on the business. And the other thing we have, we have a leadership practice and then we have done this periodically is we just track our time. You know, track our time over a, a two week period and have two columns working in and working on.

And just at the end of two weeks, kind of get an idea of how is your time split and is that the optimal split for what you’re being called upon for your organization to do?

Bill Berthel: I mean, depending upon your role and the organization, that split might not stay the same through your entire work period. You may have to be more strategic about shifting that split, which I don’t mean to complicate it, but that’s another polarity to manage.

Ralph Simone: It’s dynamic and what people want is they want the problem solved by telling them how much time they should spend in each area and that therein lies the problem. It is not a problem to be solved. It is a polarity to be managed and you need to be asking yourselves in nudging each other. What are the indicators that we have gone too far towards one pole or the other. And as you see these indicators then adjust.

And so, you know, offering a percentage is actually trying to solve a problem that isn’t a problem to be solved.

Bill Berthel: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. Maybe it’s a, no one size fits all. We need to stay in time with it connected. I love the practice of getting more self-aware and just, you know, creating the lists for yourself.

What activities have I done today for two weeks and really, uh, get a little analytical about that and strategic about how you wanna use your time in your space.

Ralph Simone: And combine activity filtering with it. What can you take out of your calendar that may be more tactical in working in the business that would allow for some additional time on strategy, coaching and mentoring, relationship building, exercise… the list goes on and on and on.

Bill Berthel: So make sure to check in for upcoming podcasts right here, Get Emergent every other week.

Note: The preceding text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors

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