Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Leadership Dilemma

Why does anyone take on a management or leadership position?  Certainly some people like the power, some people like the relational elements of it, some people like mentoring, some people are administratively gifted and like planning, budgeting, etc.  That said none of these reasons alone are sufficient to hire another person.  You wouldn't spend your own money to employ someone for one of these reasons.  Ultimately I believe that people manage or lead other people so that they can multiply their effort.   A person may be phenomenally good at what they do, they may push the limits of reasonability in their work ethic, and they may have boundless ideas but there exists a limit to what they can accomplish on their own.  In order to accomplish more they have to manage or lead other people (or get happy not accomplishing but only a part of what they'd like to.... or get someone else to champion their ideas, etc.)

I've been thinking about this in terms of a mathematical function:
Management as a formula
  • x represents the work that an individual can accomplish.
  • N is the goal...  Management is about multiplying your effort (x).  Presumably is correlated to the number of people you hire.
  • a (alpha) is a coefficient that represents the overhead of management.
I'm sure volumes and volumes have been written about how to optimize Nx.  That is, how do I efficiently manage a team, what's the ideal team size and structure, etc.  I'm interested in the second term of the function xa.

That term is meant to represent the leftover time that a person has after pouring themselves into leadership/management.  In other words if a person would passionately do tasks X, Y, and Z on their own is there any time left to do some of those things after they're done leading.  Mathematically if 100% of a leader's time is spent managing then the xa term will be 0 (a = 0... i.e. no left over time).  On the other hand if 10% of a leaders time is spent managing then the xa term will be .9x (a = .9... i.e. 90% left over time) and the manager will still get to spend 90% of their time doing things that (presumably) they enjoyed doing as an individual contributor.

I want to be a participatory leader.  I want to have time left.  I don't want my alpha to be 0.  I get energy from the creative/building process and leadership isn't worth it (i.e. I don't value the Nx term by itself) if I don't get to participate.  I don't imagine all leaders are like that (like I said above some people just like power, etc.) but it does matter to me.

So does there exist a solution to the function which maximizes N (I'd certainly love to have that number be 1,000) and minimizes a (wouldn't it be great to get Nx and still have 100% of your time to do the x that you love?)

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