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Are you a head up or head down manager?

One of the difficulties we face, as we scale the ladder of success is knowing where to focus our attention. Sounds like a simple problem to fix but turns out it is not and can actually be due to our own previous success!

Most of us are successful in our early roles due to our ability to ‘sweat the detail’. To ‘know’ the job inside out, to find solutions and to solve problems. We are masters of our craft and we know what to do to keep the wheels turning and when to do it. As we progress through the layers of management, the skills, knowledge and know how that got us to our previous positions may serve us less well as we are being asked to shift our attention from those vitally important activities to concentrate on equally important but different activities i.e. resource management, people development, budgeting and strategic planning. To make matters worse, these activities often require a different focus, shifting from the now and the concrete; “there is an issue with batch processing and it needs to be fixed immediately”, to the future and the maybe; “what is our plan to develop this function so that we meet the needs of the operation for the next 5 years. “

This is the essence of what I like to call head up and the head down management or leadership.

Working with managers and leaders across all industries and from around the globe, I focus on the idea of Head Up and Head Down management and why it is important to engage with both approaches consciously and with purpose.

Broadly speaking we can consider head down management as looking down and inwardly focussed on what is happening now and making sure that the day to day activities of the team, unit or function are being delivered and delivered to the required standards and in the required time frames.

Whilst head up management is looking forward and outward, taking a view over a broader horizon and considering what will be required and what needs to be put in place to meet those requirements. Both of these approaches and ways of working are important and appropriate depending on the situation.

But beware of your balance! Too much head up and your focus moves from the day to day operation; you take your eye off the ball and things may slip. Your team need your support in the here and now, but you are somewhere else, dealing what with what might and what could be.

Too much head down and you are in danger of being in the weeds. Too much attention on the here and now and you miss the opportunities that are out there and you never take the time to see and recognise improvements. Your team may be suffering from your well-intentioned micromanagement.

The answer of course is to be able to master both and to find the right balance according to the position and situation that we find ourselves in at any time, to be aware of our own preference to be drawn more to one style than the other and to know when to apply which. Maintaining balance mostly requires small, incremental adjustments. This requires that we act consciously, taking a few moments to consider our actions and our next steps so that we respond rather than react.

To help get us starting to think about this, here is a list of typical management tasks separated into Head Up and Head Down that will help you understand which you are more inclined to.


•Create vision, purpose & direction•Forward planning

•Monitor performance against plan•Establish cultureand ways of working

•Develop capability towards freedom and authority

•Enable effective internal and external communications

•Identify and meet training needs

•Understand team members personality, skills, strengths, needs, aimsand fears

•Assist and support individualplans

•Train and develop team members

•Give feedback

•Seek feedback


•Secure resources

•Establish responsibilities, objectives, accountabilities,and measures


•Set the standards

•Control and maintain performance

•Monitor standards of performance and behaviour

•Anticipate and resolve team conflict

•Develop team-working&morale

•Provide rewards & recognition

•Develop and utilise individual capabilities & strengths

•Give feedback

•Seek feedback

First of all, think about what you would add to your list. Then ask yourself, which side of the list is more appealing to you?

I would love to know how you get on!