"Hands-on" vs "Hands-in" leadership - a misunderstood conflation


Hands-off:  Sets goals, and initiatives.  Expects results with little care as to how they're reached.  A master of delegation and pushing accountability off to underlings.  Will take credit for his/her team's success but make examples out of people that fail.

Hands-on:  Provides guidance to staff.  Leading as the person who's been in his/her people's shoes.  A wealth of knowledge and wisdom.  Inspires people to live up to standards first, knowing that goals and initiatives will reached organically through growth.

Hands-in:  A 'Boss' who is in the weeds with his or her team.  This may seem like a dedicated person (and usually is), however forcing this person to both lead and work just as the rest of the team leaves gaps in the performance of both.  


In the following three examples, there will be a manger and a newly hired cook with a goal of making a soup.  


Manager: I need you to make me some soup.

Cook:  What kind of soup?

Manager:  You're the expert, that's what I'm bringing you in to determine

Cook:  I'll need $600 worth of ingredients and $1200 worth of kitchen utensils

Manager:  Why so much?

Cook:  That's what it costs.  I'm the expert remember?

Manager:  Ok, here's $1800

Cook makes a wonderful beef barley soup, good enough to earn the restaurant a Michelin star, however the venue that wanted the soup was vegan.  The customer is disgusted and ultimately lost, there's a surplus of kitchen supplies, and tons of wasted ingredients and time.  The manager fires the cook and tells the owner they were not up to the company standards.  They've got this great soup they can no longer reproduce as well and have to create a new one from square one.  This is accepted because the manager is usually fairly successful with these things.


Manager:  I need you to make me some soup.

Cook:  What kind of soup?

Manager:  The venue is vegan, do you have recommendations?

Cook:  Perhaps a nice mushroom soup?

Manager:  I think one of the members of the party is allergic.  Can you do a Lentil soup?

Cook:  With the kind of volume we're dealing with, I'm afraid the Lentils may come out mushy.

Manager:  Do you soak them first?

Cook:  Yes.  It's how I've always done it.

Manager:  Lets try skipping the soaking stage.  It may scale up in larger pots better.  Also, if we're going with lentil, let me know how you like to embellish the recipe and what extra materials you need.

Cook:  When I've made things on a smaller scale, I like to toss in chick-peas.  

Manager:  We'll price out the ingredients and I'll make sure you have the resources you need.  Tomorrow I'd like you to make a test batch, and we'll iterate a bit until we've got something we're both proud to present.

Soup comes out average, but gets better and better and was ultimately a hit at the venue.  The manager tells ownership that thanks to the collaboration, they have a dead simple recipe in place and can scale up production just by adding more people.  The manager is on top of the process, but not drawn into it.


Manager: I need you to make me some soup.

Cook:  What kind of soup?

Manager:  Lentil with spinach.  I'll be hands-on working with you throughout the process.

Cook:  Ok, where do I..

Manager:  Hold that thought, there's no time.  I'm in the middle of a batch right now.  Grab me a spoon to stir with.

Cook:  Do you have the recipe for that so I can make a separate batch?

Manager:  If I had the time to do that, I wouldn't need the help.  See if you can follow along and do what I do

You can already picture how this ends up.  The cook will never get it quite right and the manager will always have anxiety about fully trusting the cook on his/her own.  The cook will always need to have his/her hands literally in the pot.  Scaling up is impossible in this case because the manager is in the process, and not on top of it.

Some takeaways: