Manage less to lead more

by | Feb 26, 2021 | Leadership

When I was growing up, in the days when cars were simpler and fathers did their own repairs, I would often find my Dad in our garage at the weekend – bonnet up, lamp in place, fiddling with the engine.

Recently, I worked with an operations leader who’d been given the remit to restructure her team to improve efficiency and performance. She was struggling to execute the required changes because she was paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong. She felt exposed and vulnerable.

She admitted she felt much more comfortable “tinkering under the bonnet” than taking the car out on the road. For her, this meant letting emails, meeting requests and other people’s priorities dictate her work, and spending a lot of time supporting her team.

There’s a real sense of reward and achievement from sorting out a problem and helping your team which you might not get when you’re grappling with the unknowns of driving change and innovation. Aside from the fact that you want to be a good manager – supportive, available and careful not to overload them. 

Yet I know from speaking to many of my clients that they want to make a difference in the organisation they work for and they know they need to lift above the day-to-day if they want to help drive strategic initiatives. They’re aware that  “tinkering under the bonnet” won’t get them there but they’re afraid to let go. Partly because they’re afraid of things going wrong if they don’t hold a tight rein, partly because they’re scared of stepping outside their comfort zone where there isn’t an obvious answer. 

Embracing what it means to be a good leader means letting go of some of what it means to be a good manager.

What do you need to let go of so you can manage less and lead more? It could be :

  • Giving team members more ownership. You stay accountable but you make them responsible. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised with the results!
  • Setting and communicating boundaries around your time. This has the dual benefit of giving you back time while encouraging your team to be more resourceful rather than assuming you’ll give them the answer.
  • Getting in touch with what you want and why. What’s the difference you want to make? What impact do you want to have? Where do you want to take your career? What does that mean for what you need to give attention, like building relationships or getting more involved in strategic projects?

In Brene Brown’s words, “You can choose courage or comfort, but you cannot choose both.” Which are you choosing?

What do you think? Drop me a line at

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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