“It would be GREAT if you could write a piece for my email once a month,” Nancy said soon after coming on board.
“Um, sure,” I said haltingly. “I think I can do that.”
Nancy was focused on developing her database of potential clients, and thought it would foster engagement if I occasionally contributed a column for her sales-side communications. Now, this was not a shocking request. In fact, for at least a year after starting healthsystemCIO.com, I did just that — I developed a separate sales-side email list and wrote a column for it once a month.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep it up. I found that writing two fairly intelligent and hopefully insightful pieces in a week (one for this weekly newsletter and one for the monthly sales-side newsletter) proved beyond my grasp. Thus, we’d let communications to the sales-side list lapse — that is, until Nancy came on board.
“I’m sorry Nancy, but I just can’t write a column for your list,” I sheepishly emailed a few weeks later. I tried to explain why it wouldn’t work but the more I read it over, the sillier it sounded. “Oh well,” I thought, “I hope she understands, but I can’t do it.”
About a month later, I received the following email from Kate:
I started writing one blog but nearly bored myself to sleep, so I trashed it and decided to write about the premise behind our HIMSS Meet & Greet. If it’s possible, can you please give it a quick look today and let me know what you think? If it comes across as too harsh, I still have time to write about something else. But I wanted your thoughts.
Now, being a writer tasked with producing a column every week, I knew that telling Kate to go back to the drawing board was really harsh. Ideas, as I said, just don’t grow on trees, and she’d already gone through two. Unless there was something seriously wrong with her piece, we’d button it up and march it out the door. Turns out, it was great.
Both incidents made me think about how important it is to truly understand the work being done by those you are leading, for it is only with such understanding that you will know when to say yes and when to say no; when to work with what you have, and when to request a do-over.
When I started healthsystemCIO.com, I yearned to bring on a salesperson, as the work was foreign to me, but my wife felt strongly I had to master the job before turning it over. “How can you lead a salesperson if you have no idea what their work is like? How can you help someone sell if you have never sold?” she asked.
And so now, I lead Nancy and Kate. I have written and edited. I have sold. And so when I make suggestions, they usually carry a grain of merit. I am much more valuable to them, and can help them be even more valuable to our company.
This is not to say that a leader must know the jobs of all those under his or her purview, but somewhere in the chain of command, and somewhere in the leadership team, someone must know what the work is actually like. For only if leaders know of what they speak will they know when to move to forward, when to hit rewind, and when what’s being asked is just too harsh.