The Adaptive Agency Blog

Get More From Your Team: Leading vs. Supervising vs. Administering

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Culture

Every employer wishes their team could do better. But how to get more from them is a mystery.

  • You can pay them more, but that doesn’t always correlate to more output.
  • You can ride them and threaten them, but independent thinking goes down, and attrition goes up.
  • You can just replace them, but it’s a ton of work and there’s no guarantee you’ll get someone better.

I’ve thought about this challenge for two decades, and the people who report to me always give more than I expect of them.

Here’s why:

1. I Never Supervise.

Before we’re in management, we have a lot of control over what we produce. But once we get our first management role, we realize that we have almost no control.

That’s scary!

We’re still on the hook for results, but we have to depend on other people to produce them.

For many, that loss of control is untenable. So they look for ways to get control. They do things like the following:

  • create new policies and rules
  • micromanage
  • focus on behavioral metrics

These are all things we can subject our people to and have a feeling of control.

But it’s short-term control over behaviors, not long-term impact on outcomes.


2. I Minimize Administration Time.

I constantly evaluate what I’m doing against several criteria:

  1. Is this activity moving me closer to achieving the vision?
  2. Is it high-leverage activity?
  3. Is it compounding activity?
  4. Is it helping me be the tide that raises all boats?

As a leader, if the answer is no, I find out how to eliminate it, automate it, delegate it, outsource it, or simplify it.

That’s because of the opportunity cost.

I could be using that time to help multiple employees permanently level up. Or solving a systemic problem permanently. Or talking to my best customers.

So, most administrative work is a no-no for me. But if I have to do it, it’s time-boxed. I do it between 3 and 4:30 pm. The end.


3. I Maximize My Leadership Time.

But what I really do with my time is helping my people succeed.

And I don’t mean helping them hit their metrics. I mean helping them grow.

As a leader, the lowest level you can pursue is making sure people do things. But if your people need to be pushed to do things, they’re the wrong people.

The next level up from that is helping people accomplish things. Achievement is a powerful motivator and a strong reward. Turning an effort-driven job into an outcome-oriented job will light up the right employees.

But even better is to help people become something. When you can help your people grow and transform, you make all the other stuff unnecessary. People who feel themselves becoming something naturally do great work and produce results.

That’s hard, though, because it’s a long-term prospect. It requires patience and course correcting. You have to focus on the person, not the job. Short-term control goes out the window. Mistakes will be made.

But isn’t that how you and I learned and grew? It’s unwise and unrealistic to expect someone to do it faster than we did.

I think my success in developing high-value teams stems from (a) my ability to be patient and win the long game and (b) my deep care about the people in my care.

So that’s where I spend most of my time. I do things like these:

  • consistent 1:1 meetings with my direct reports
  • monthly macro-skills training with the whole company
  • business training for my top employees
  • leadership training for anyone who’s aligned with our values and shared purpose
  • countless, random conversations with employees who are ready for a nudge in the right direction

Lots of small drops in the bucket eventually fill the bucket. That’s when all the great stuff happens.

The more consistent I am, the more my leaders emulate me. And the better our people perform. And the longer we retain our good people.

Like they say, “The best time to plant a shade tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” If you’re going to be in business five years from now, then today is a good day to start focusing on leading rather than supervising.