One of my favourite pastimes is listening to stories about what great leaders do, or, in the case of the one I am about to share, did. Recently I was told of how the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum led the transformation of sandy settlements into a modern city.
Each morning following Fajr prayers, Sheikh Rashid would drive around town and check on the progress of the projects, not only government projects but also those in the private sector. I asked the storyteller: "Do you think they would have accomplished what was done without this type of micro-monitoring?" The immediate reply was "no", followed by another story.
One day Sheikh Rashid noticed progress was not being made on a particular project; it had stalled on the first floor for too long. So when he returned to his office, he called the owner of the building. After some chit-chat, he inquired about the status of the building. When the owner replied: "It is going superb, we are up to the third floor." Sheikh Rashid replied: "You must have the best contractor in the world."
"Your Highness, why do you say this?" queried the owner.
"When I was there a few hours ago, the building was just on the first floor," Sheikh Rashid replied.
The owner received the message, as did other leaders and the legend of the story still lives today. This leadership practice made me wonder: "Should leaders be micro-monitoring?"
This approach to leading is highly disputed; many leaders argue that it is wrong to monitor this intensely. The textbooks say leaders should give the vision or direction to their employees or teams and let them get on with it - planning and executing. Reality does not work like the textbooks read; leading results requires monitoring.
When this concept of micro-monitoring is presented as a leadership practice, the immediate argument is that leaders should not do it. They reply micromanaging is wrong.
Here I think we need to draw a distinction on terms: micromanaging is telling your team how to do something and micro-doing is doing the work for them. Unfortunately this is a trap that I have witnessed many leaders get stuck in.
However, micro-monitoring is the work that leaders need to do. It is the role of the leader to lead the delivery of results, and this requires monitoring.
The twice-a-year performance review that many leaders rely on is simply insufficient when it comes to monitoring. It is flawed by logic as the timing of monitoring is too infrequent to allow for correction and recovery if delivery falls behind.
Reactive performance reviews are the antithesis of the practice Sheikh Rashid maintained. He took a proactive approach to ensure leaders would deliver on the vision.
When leaders have the mindset of making sure their teams succeed, then monitoring moves from inspection, which invokes resistance to the practice, to that of proactively ensuring success. It only makes sense that leaders should focus on others succeeding, as it is their job to lead delivery of results and they are accountable for it.
Monitoring is more than a formal twice a year or once a quarter process. It should have the right frequency and be proactively focused on successful execution. Are you monitoring enough and in the right way?
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center