How to direct managers?

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Paul Lignières, former national managing partner of the Linklaters France firm, shares a simple and proven solution for managing managers. Including yourself.

When I was appointed National Managing Partner of Linklaters France, I assumed I would spend a maximum of five hours a day on management responsibilities, and the remaining five hours on my clients. When I was reappointed, I reduced the time spent on management to a maximum of three hours per day.

It is not easy to combine working with clients and managing responsibilities. Here we give some practical advice on how to achieve this.

My new approach

To start with this new approach:

  • I have prepared a strategic business plan – including goals for the firm as a common goal to prevent everyone from constantly asking fundamental questions about the general orientations of the firm.
  • I clarified the role of management with an actual job description.
  • I posted the business plan and job description clarifying my role as a managing partner on my office wall – it served as a reminder to myself and others. Leaders often try to deal with all the problems that come their way under the pretext that a leader must necessarily do better than the others, which is largely false. Indeed, in many cases, there is someone better suited than the leader to address these issues.
  • I asked my interlocutors to try to solve their own problems first and not wait for answers from “management” first. For this I have put four magic questions on my wall so that anyone who comes to me with a problem can ask themselves the following question:
  1. What’s the problem ?
  2. What is the cause of the problem?
  3. What are all possible solutions to the problem?
  4. Which solution do you propose?

If the person can’t answer the four questions, I suggest they think it over and then we talk again. So I don’t try to replace myself in the role of my interlocutor while supporting him, offering him guidance.

Implementation of this approach

Communication is essential. My reappointment was the perfect time to explain the new approach to the partners. Everyone had to be clear about their roles and responsibilities – and me first!

Daily management

In the emergency hierarchy, it is sometimes difficult to respect this compartmentalization between management activity and that dedicated to customers. It is also difficult to respect priorities. We should also venture to say that internal control issues are sometimes more important than those of customers because they can potentially directly affect 300 people and the company’s reputation, while those of customers can sometimes be less strategic; so you have to be flexible. However, this should be the exception and not the rule: customers should remain a priority in principle.

My advice for a similar approach

To take such an approach, I suggest asking the following question: If you had to stop everything tomorrow and keep only a few activities, which ones would you keep? Define where your added value lies, what sets you apart from other members of the organization, what you do better than others, which five tasks you would prioritize. Then determine who is responsible for what in all other activities. Finally, on a piece of paper, write down your responsibilities and the most important things you will focus on. Clearly display this sheet of paper so that it faces you first. It is also a way of respecting the value, contribution and uniqueness of the other members of the team. Resist the temptation to occupy yourself with tasks that aren’t yours and force yourself to focus on what matters most to you.

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