In Praise of Incompetent Managers
Imagine you weren’t as competent as you believe.
How would you treat your team?
The problem is, you can do it “better” yourself.
- Get things done.
- Want the job done right.
- Have confidence and grit.
- Don’t need to be told what to do.
- Make important contributions.
Competence gets in the way, when you do it yourself.
- Become overwhelmed in the long-term, because they can do it better than others, today.
- Often say, “What’s wrong with them?”
- Limit organizational capacity and potential.
- Feel powerful giving permission.
- Don’t develop others.
- Hoard knowledge.
- Need to be at the center.
- Have trust issues.
- Believe it’s my way or the highway.
- Don’t appreciate those with other skill-sets. “The ‘good’ people are like us.”
Do it with is better than do it yourself.
- Know what makes teammates tick. Project: Make a list of your teammates. Now, list their passions, character traits, skills, and aspirations. How will you help them develop and express their best?
- See energy in others and fuel it. Successful leaders constantly follow, manage, and fuel energy. People with energy represent the future.
- Ask, “What do you think?”
- Say, “You try,” after brief explanations. Skill is developed as you go, not before you go.
- Allow others to struggle, but stand ready to help.
- Give meaning to jobs by explaining the big picture.
- Accept that it takes time to develop skills.
- Do one-time activities themselves, if they are good at them.
- Assign stretch projects.
- Help people find their confident stride. It’s better to go slow now to go fast later.
Bonus: Relax and breathe when things go wrong. “What are we learning?
Remember that person who believed in you? Be that person for others.
How might managers overcome the tendency to do it themselves?
When should managers do it themselves?
Nice, very nice thanks.
I never thought that a big part of management is letting go.
Thanks Bill. It seems like trust as much as anything.
yep, as engineer stop shoveling coal and start looking out for roadblocks
love the illustration.
For me it is not so much trust as “I can do it faster than I can explain what I want”. I have a post it note saying “DELEGATE” on my computer to remind me that it doesn’t matter how fast it gets done. And I have great staff who remind me that they can do it!
Believe in them and they will follow. 🙂
Coaching people up to higher performance is a very gratifying opportunity, but increasingly rare. The problem nowadays is that we have a Guild economy. Everyone is a temporary contractor, even if they think they are a “permanent” (W-2) employee. People are expected to bring the appropriate skills to the table. Customers aren’t willing to fund on-the-job learning – heck, they are hardly willing to pay for competent people. And very few companies have the overhead structure to support proper learning and training, at least not what remains after executive bonuses.
Thanks Douglas. Your observations are helpful. Spending time and resources developing people who are gone next month is frustrating at best.
In the past, I hired faculty and we expected them to come to the table prepared. We expect people to have an acceptable level of competence. Perhaps the opportunity for development is about their untapped potential as it connects with personal aspiration.
There appears to be a growing “blending” of contractor vs employee. I suspect this topic really highlights what should be a clear distinction. A contractor is expected to come fully capable and needing no development, a pinch hitter brought in for a specific short term need. Whereas an employee should be hired for potential to learn and grow … Someone you invest in to develop the organisation for the longer term.
I love this! Thank you. I was fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and want to be that person for someone else.
Thanks Donna. Best for the journey. Perhaps it’s time to begin inviting some people to coffee and see if a mentoring relationship develops. 🙂
A lot of do it yourself managers aren’t allowed to become do it with managers, because organisational systems do not allow them to let their people learn. Time taken to learn isconsidered (in an incredibly stupid manner) “dead” or “wasted” resource, and only those that “hit the ground running” are of value.
The model seems to be that a good business lets someone else train people, then you buy the skill on the open market, because only a moron would spend time, money and effort in building capability in-house.
Some of the most empowering words anyone has said to me are “Give it a go. You know where to find me”.
To some extent, leaders and managers are “care-takers” for the well-being of persons in their charge. And those who have ever been care-takers for others, it is no easy service. And of all management duties, fulfilling the mission of care-taking with compassion and competence requires “self-care.”
For another profession, William Osler suggested that care-takers read everything we can read. Taste everything we can taste. Travel everywhere we can travel. Learn everything we can learn. Experience everything we can experience. Enjoy every moment and day of life we can enjoy. Meet and enjoy everyone with whom we come in contact. And be thankful and grateful for everything…even nothing. Then he said, “Wow, what a job, and what a life!”
Because we’ve read, traveled, tasted, experienced, etc., our lives are not determined by what happens to us and not by what life brings to us, rather the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, then events, and ultimately outcomes: We, thus, are our own catalyst–the spark that creates extra-ordinary results.
Because we’re thankful and grateful we can interface with those we care-take to: Reinforce strengths, recognize and increase confidence, build skills, develop autonomy and self-reliance, increase motivation, learn about his/her own learning processes, remediate weak areas, feel good about—in fact enjoy learning and doing.
As care-takers, our surface goal is to help persons in our charge improve learning and doing skills. The over-arching vision is to guide and support each person to become confident, effective and autonomous… to understand and deal with his or her own learning and doing strengths and quirks…to grow to enjoy reasoning and performing… good thinkers, confident, fulfilled professionals, and active, sensitive, contributory members of the organization.
As I grow in leadership, I struggle with the fact that I can spot incompetence a mile away and hate having to tolerate it mainly because I do not tolerate it in myself. So, while I see a lot of my own characteristics in the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ manager, I’d like to be more of a ‘Do-It-With’ manager. I see this post being very helpful for me (also, being printed and kept near my desk as a reminder of what I’m working toward). Thank you!!!
Boss: What happened? What is the problem?
Subordinate: I am doing my level best and put all the resources right but do not understand why people are not attracting to our products.
Boss: What is your opinion to get rid of such a situation?
Subordinate: We are relying much over ATL activities. I feel if we shift our focus a bit towards BTL activities, the situation may change or else we can think of some value additions.
Boss: You are right. This is what I was also thinking. Go Ahead. Do not worry about any problem. I am there to take care of.
Pity on having such a boss who is unable to guide his subordinates. Had the subordinate been able to solve the issue, why would he have approached his boss? And if he can solve the problem himself, what is the rational behind having a showpiece boss? Instances are there where the boss doesn’t have any idea about what is going around and refrain to speak even over trivial issues just because of the fear of getting exposed. All such bosses have the one thing in common, i.e., inferiority complex.
Well said “Remember that person who believed in you? Be that person for others.” Very nice and interesting. Love it!
I think this is the most difficult message to get across to managers, at least for me personally. We are paying you too much to be a custodian, and you are too smart, talented and qualified to not understand the importance of delegation and teamwork. “But I want it done right.” Then train them correctly by having them practice. Thanks for this!
Doing thinks ourselves is an option, unless your job is to get work for others. If the client can’t wait for scheduling I will offer to do the task, I prefer to leave the tasks for our workers. My job is to delegate the projects to get the work done and make sure the client gets what they wanted at a fair price. We have to learn to delegate more as we journey, and coach when needed.
When a manager is tempted to “do it him/herself,” he/she is 1) likely depriving a subordinate of an opportunity to grow; 2) likely putting aside work that he/she should be doing that he/she alone may be capable as well as responsible to do; 3) a pattern of such will erode the foundation of mutual trust/respect & mutual accountability necessary for organizational effectiveness.
This should be a last resort taken when critical action must be taken & the manager is the only one available.
The most powerful way to grow a company is to empower your team, coach their growth and leverage your ability through the work of many others. One manager can choose to do one persons work, or influence 10-20 others to achieve 10-20 times what the manager could do on his own.
Then challenge yourself to take the extra step … Influence 10-20 leaders to influence 10-20 team members and multiply your efforts exponentially.
I saw three levels of supervision while working for the IRS. “Administrators” count beans. (There are lots of that type in an agency full of accountants.) “Managers” sort the beans into piles. “Leaders” look at the beans and ask “What can I do today that hasn’t been done before?”. One problem is that the first two levels think they are at the third level. Another problem is that administrators and managers are threatened by leaders and stomp on them early and often. Some seemingly poor managers are actually pretty good leaders. I saw it play out similarly in 26 plus years in the military.