Down/In, Out, and Up

Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else. – Peter F. Drucker

A leader’s professional universe can be broadly defined in terms of:

  1. Down and In: All those actions and activities devoted to the internal matters of the organization, its employees, especially direct reports, and the mission.
  2. Out: The attention and effort that is directed laterally to advance organizational interests. Partnerships, contemporary relationships, organization-to-organization collaboration, professional peer relationships outside the leader’s domain, both internally and externally to the parent organization.
  3. Up: The undertakings that deal with those higher in the organization’s chain of command, the leader’s direct manager or boss, those above this level, and their staffs.

It’s an important concept to understand because grasping and applying it can help leaders to focus and apportion their scarce time and attention on the things that matter most and avoid the common trap of misdirecting most of their effort up the chain of command.

What matters most for leaders is caring about their people in authentic, genuine, and action-based ways, in truly believing that employees are the foundation of their businesses and organizations. Understanding that without a professionally successful, self-actualized, productive, creative, satisfied, and engaged workforce, their business, products, mission, and profits are all at risk. If their employees are successful, they’ll be successful, and the organization and business will too.  From this elemental realization, we come to understand that leaders should allocate their time, attention, and effort mostly on the “down and in”.

Next in precedence for the leader’s time, attention, and effort is the “out”; lateral relationships, issues, processes, and matters that affect and relate to the organization’s and leader’s peers, contemporaries, partners, and collaborators.  It is within these relationships that a healthy organization solves and prevents the problems that they do not directly control.  Common causes are made, mutual self-interests are advanced, resources are shared and bought to bear, and genuine collaboration and compromise is conducted.

Lastly should be the “up”; the relationships, interactions, time, attention, and focus expended on the leader’s immediate bosses and managers and their staffs.  Much of this should be in keeping them informed, seeking occasional clarifying guidance, and gaining support for the work of subordinates.  Generally, organizational problems are solved laterally and by subordinates and not above in the hierarchy.  Experienced leaders find that most of the problems that are solved or prevented by interacting with those above in the organization were created there to begin with.  Those must be dealt with, but they should be relatively infrequent.

It’s unfortunate, but many leaders invert these priorities and expend the majority of their time and considerations up the chain of command on the personal relationships that advance their own social connections, but do little to solve and prevent organizational problems.  These leaders quickly lose touch with what matters most; their employees, mission, organization, and partners.

This style is an open invitation to manipulation of and by leaders above in the hierarchy.  “Yes people”, opportunists, and self-promoters are rewarded with promotions, privileges, and status and in turn create and support others who operate in the same way.

Employees motivated by the greater good, a self-directed purpose to excel on behalf of the organization, a bed rock mission and business sense are driven away by those who are focused on currying favor.  The former correctly see that a not so subtle form of discrimination and corruption is at work as their own talents are marginalized, even punished.  A company that is wired this way will eventually fail.

A leader’s time is her/his most valuable and perishable resource.

If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got. – Lee Iacocca

Keith Stalder, #40

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