Know your role as a leader.

By Amy Kay Watson

When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein worked for The Washington Post, they experienced publisher Katharine Graham's uniquely effective leadership. The very simple description they used for her management style was this: Hands off, mind on.

In Bob Woodward's words:

"I was awed, supported and put on notice that she was engaged and knew the details of the stories down to the bookkeeping details of the secret Watergate cash slush fund. She wasn't going to meddle, try to edit or second-guess, but she did, after all, want a better performance. Her skill was to raise the bar, gently but relentlessly. She did not tell us that The Post company's TV station licenses were being challenged and that Watergate reporting could have killed the newspaper.

"It is true that Katharine Graham kept her hands off the news reporting and editing. But as important, she kept her mind on it-ferociously. As Watergate unfolded for the next 20 months, she kept us informed about what Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser, was saying. If a White House official called her, she took notes and sent them on immediately. She helped us analyze the motives and knowledge of various players." (Washington Post, July 23, 2001)

How would your team describe your managerial style? Consider your own leadership and the people you most want to influence.

To what extent is your mind on?

When you consider the people on your team, how interested are you in the passion that fuels their work? What about their challenges?

How familiar are you with the obstacles they face and how they've tried to overcome those obstacles? Do you serve as a brainstorming and analytical partner?

Do you know how they have succeeded and failed?

Could you give someone else an update on their goals and progress without asking them for a special meeting?

Are you hungry for information that would support your people in achieving their goals, and are you making sure you are funneling that information to them?

To what extent are your hands off?

Considering the people on your team, when you learn about challenges, do you jump in to solve problems your people could probably solve themselves if they had the right resources?

Do you delegate with ease or grudgingly?

Do you trust their perspective to be informed and useful or do you insist on decisions being made in accordance with your own perspective?

Do you trust your people to meet their responsibilities, or do you doubt their abilities?

Do you act as the quality control officer for your team?

Perhaps it truly is your responsibility to check the quality of their work, but if that task is not explicitly required of you and yet you are doing it, are you certain you are meeting needs of the organization rather than your own needs for reassurance and significance?

You can give yourself a quick checkup with numbers to measure where you are right now by making a list of the ten people you spend most of your time with.

For each one, reflect on their likely experience of you and score yourself on a scale of 1-10 in answer to these questions:

How much do they experience you as "mind on"? How much do they experience you as "hands off"?

The point of this exercise is not to focus on deficits, but to uncover opportunities for greater effectiveness. Create an experiment or two for yourself to try that can help to improve your ability to manage "hands off, mind on."

Amy Kay Watson is an ICF-certified leadership and career coach. She also teaches coaching for leaders and is the author of the Kindle book, Working with Stress and Fear. She serves on the board of the Compassionate Communication Center of Ohio and speaks for women's leadership groups across Columbus.Learn more at and contact via