There’s a lot of good ways to learn how to be a better manager, or to prepare for your first leadership position. There’s plenty of material on sites like Leadfully; there’s co-workers to talk to who can give you advice; there’s management courses and classes to attend. But sometimes the best way to learn on the job is one of the easiest ways—by watching leadership in action. Not for one meeting or even a day, but for an entire week, to get a real sense of how being in charge works. And here’s the real magic—it can be helpful for both parties.
Think of it as a mini-consultancy within your workplace. If you’re looking to learn something, or even just to be part of a more hands-on evaluation process, you can shadow them for a week. You don’t have to bring someone in from outside to tell you what’s working and what’s inefficient—you can do it yourself, just by paying attention and trying to learn best practices. It’s an exercise that can benefit everyone, and it’s one that won’t cause too much stress.
The Benefits of Shadowing
A formal assessment of someone’s work, especially one as intense as a week-long appraisal, might put them on edge. Even the best leader within your company could skew expected results by trying to impress whoever’s following them around, if the shadowing is tied to a performance review. Other companies might not have a proper evaluation process at all for higher-ups. With a “week in the life of a leader” program, you can give someone helpful tips, in a much more casual way, by following them around and taking note of the duties they perform—and the decisions they have to make.
It’s killing two birds with one stone—but in a nice way! The shadower (that is, to say, the employee following the leader around) gets to see how things work first-hand and pick up valuable management skills ahead of a promotion or a new assignment. The shadowed gets to take stock of how they perform their duties, what they could improve, and what already works. It’s hard to gauge your own productivity, but stressful to have it judged by an outside source. This concept cuts through all of that.
The most important part of any leader’s job is decision-making. Some leaders might have dozens of decisions to make a day, others might have even more. Noting how many decisions come across a manager’s desk, and what kind of decisions they are, is crucial to any shadowing assignment. It can be a specific part of the process—a grid to be filled out, subcategorized by types of decision-making. Or it can just be a mandate in the note-taking process. Tally up the kinds of decisions being made, and take stock of them at the end of every day.
Are you concentrating mostly on human resources? On big-picture strategy? On day-to-day minutiae? Obviously your specific responsibilities will play a part in whatever is discovered here. But you might be surprised by how much you’re doing that isn’t part of your job description, or the kinds of things you aren’t concentrating on enough. That’s why tallying up decisions is such an important part of shadowing, and it’s something you could expand company-wide to gather even more significant data-points. Where are various duties being assigned, and who actually ends up performing them? It’s a great way to find out about inefficiencies and nip them quickly in the bud.
Too Many Meetings?
A common complaint from many a manager is that they spend most of their day in meetings, often away from the people they’re actually in charge of. It’s amazing how many of these scheduled check-ins don’t serve a real purpose and just involve various leaders checking in with each other. How do you gauge your own productivity? Have someone else note how many meetings you’re in and how many decisions are made in them. If there aren’t many decisions being made, then maybe you should take a hard look at the purpose of some of the time blocked off in your calendar, and decide whether it’s still worth your while.
So often the demand from upper management is to do more with less. When it comes to meetings, conference calls, and other regularly-scheduled check-ins, it’s a demand that should become a mantra, and being shadowed by someone can serve as a real wake-up call. Just looking at your planner often isn’t enough to see the forest from the trees—it takes someone else following you around and figuring out what you’re best at, what you need more of, and what you have no time for.
Accentuate the Positive
That’s not to say that the shadowing process is just to identify inefficiencies. It can also be an incredibly affirming task, highlighting what works best about you as a manager and giving your co-workers an opportunity to learn from it. The data extrapolated from an intensive shadowing isn’t punitive; it’s a learning opportunity for the manager, and the same should go for the person following them around. There’s plenty to learn from everyone at the office no matter where they fall on the org chart. But spending a week in the life of a leader is a way for multiple people to learn valuable lessons. And there’s nothing better than that.