by Steve Adubato, PhD

In his book, “Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make,” author Hans Finzel says that many leaders put “paperwork before people work.” That’s a great way of saying that leaders sometimes see the people in their organization (and some on the outside) as a big pain in the neck.

When Finzel refers to paperwork, it doesn’t literally mean handling paper. It’s a metaphor for being task-oriented. Many of us measure our performance as leaders based on how much we get done. Our focus is on tasks and on execution. Accomplishing these tasks and executing them are critically important for any leader or manager.

The problem comes when our obsession with being task-oriented clouds our sense of the importance of the human element. Sometimes we don’t see that the people around us are critical to the overall success of our organization.

So what about you? Are you pushing people away just so you can do your “paperwork?” Consider these questions and then do a serious assessment of your leadership style and how you might improve it.

--Do you tend to close your office door for long periods of time (an hour or more) because the people around you keep “interrupting” you and stopping you from getting your work done?

--Do you find yourself coming in early and staying late because those are the only times you see as truly productive, mainly because no one else is around?

--Do you use not so subtle body language to communicate the message to people around you that you really aren’t interested in listening because you have “more important” things to do?

--Do you automatically assume that when someone comes to speak with you they are more likely to engage in “idle” talk as opposed to something that is really important?

--Do you overuse your “do not disturb” button on your phone or your caller ID just to make sure you are not distracted from the task at hand?

--Do you make sure you eat lunch at your desk as opposed to with other people in the organization just to ensure you don’t have to interact with them?

Look. Doing some of these things some of the time in order to get certain things done and minimize wasteful communication is actually a smart thing to do. But like I said, the problem is having an obsession with them to the point where you guild walls and communication barriers with those around you. This limits your ability to lead and connect with others. Our goal should be to strike a balance between paperwork and people work.

Consider a few things you can do to improve your people work that won’t take much time, but could pay off in a big way:

--Delegate more. Reduce the actual number of tasks that you are responsible for. Connect those tasks to the people on your team and their respective talents and skills. The fewer tasks you have on your plate, the more open you will be to people work.

--Invest more time in communicating organizational goals to your people. Your people need to know where you want to take the organization.

--Let your people know how important they are to the organization’s success. People work includes complimenting and other forms of direct feedback.

--Break bread with colleagues at least once during the week. If it can’t be lunch or dinner, invest time in a cup of coffee. This will keep you stay connected and break down some of those communication barriers.