Managers Take Note: Less of You is Probably Enough

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Your success isn’t directly correlated to how much time you spend telling people what to do.

In October, the Wall Street Journal ran a great article by Dr. Robert I. Sutton: “Bosses Get Out of Your Employees’ Way.” Read it if you have access. 

Dr. Sutton’s work is always backed by research, so there are a variety of studies cited that indicate, in many circumstances, too much managing is a bad thing. I agree. However, learning to let go for many managers takes time, practice, and the self-confidence to know that your success isn’t directly correlated to how much time you spend telling people what to do. 

As managers and leaders, we often fall victim to the belief that our teams need us to survive and thrive. In reality, if we’ve done our jobs right in selecting, developing, and placing people in the right positions, and worked hard to create a healthy environment, what they need is less of us.

It’s Good When They Don’t Need You

The situations when I’ve learned whether I’ve done my job are the moments when I needed to direct my focus off of the team and onto something else. 

In one perfect storm of circumstances, I focused elsewhere based on board demands and was dependent upon the team executing a combination of complex projects and market initiatives.

Their work was masterful. The results were excellent, and my pride in them as professionals and as a team soared through the roof. And, well, maybe there was a tinge of self-pity in the recognition that I was dispensable, but ultimately, I knew that was a good thing.

Beware Assuming You Are the Reason for the Team’s Success

It’s easy to let your identity as a manager become intertwined with the belief that you are the principal reason the group is thriving. Don’t get caught in this trap.

It’s your job to create a healthy working environment and get the right people in the right seats. And, if you’ve done your job, they can generate results without your constant intervention and oversight. According to the studies cited by Professor Sutton in his Wall Street Journal article, their results might be better without your direct involvement. 

Learn to Let Go to Drive Great Results

Something unusual happens when you surround yourself with capable, motivated individuals and give them a healthy working environment that includes the room to run and freedom to experiment. They strive to succeed at ever-higher levels by collaborating, problem-solving, and innovating.

In environments where I’ve observed high-performance groups, the pursuit of success in the form of strengthened results, creative problem-solving, and game-changing innovations takes root and then spreads like parking tickets in snow zones on Chicago streets during January. Don’t let your instinct to over-manage stop the spread of excellent results.

You play a role in your team’s success. Just make sure it’s the right role. Less of you is probably enough. 

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with top executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. Art writes the Management Excellence blog.

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