“And then Jim’s boss just parachuted right into the situation — took over the conference calls, started making all the decisions, and pushed Jim right out of the way,” I related the story to a fellow dad, Rick.
Rick is a great guy, works in finance in NYC and used to have it made until he got a new boss about a year ago. Ever since then, Rick’s been put under an irritating surveillance he had hitherto been unacquainted with. His new boss seemed to value time spent at one’s desk over sales (or at least to be desirous of seeing both). The guy would call Rick while he (the boss) was on vacation twice a day just to see what was going on, and regularly call the office secretary to get a headcount of who was around. If he didn’t like the census, his next call would be to Rick wanting to know the whereabouts of his team.
Rick was frustrated with his boss, so whenever I hear interesting leadership stories, like the one above about Jim, I relate them. After telling Rick the tale, he got pensive.
“You know, it’s a fine line, right? I want to go out on sales calls with my team members because it helps me stay sharp, and I want to be involved at some level with their day-to-day stuff so I stay relevant to them,” he said.
“It’s just my opinion buddy, but I think you’re a little off the mark here,” I said, hoping that our friendship would permit me this liberty.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, you say you want to go out on sales calls with your team so you can keep your skills sharp, right? I don’t really think that’s a good enough reason to insinuate yourself into their calls. I mean, I think you should make it clear to them that you’re a resource if they feel your presence would be helpful, like maybe to close a deal or something. But there have to be other ways you can keep your sales skill sharp — can you make your own meetings and get out to see clients?”
“And as far as wanting to stay relevant in their day-to-day work, I think you’re off the mark there as well. The idea of wanting to stay relevant means you are coming from a place of insecurity, and that’s a bad place to operate from. I think the goal of a manager, of a leader, should be to want to become irrelevant to their employees on a day-to-day basis. You’re there to assemble a great team, give them goals and objectives, give them all the tools you can to achieve those goals, remove any obstacles they can’t get rid of themselves, and get out of the way. If they can get through their days without needing you, you’ve done a great job, and I bet you’d have a highly productive and happy team on your hands.” I said.
“I think you’re right,” he said.
I think I am right. I truly believe there is a leadership learning curve that starts at one end of the spectrum with “total control” and spans over to what I’ll call “supported independence.” When we are first thrown into a leadership positon — if we haven’t been mentored properly — we begin at the total control end of the spectrum. If we are wise enough to grow, we begin our journey toward a management style of supported independence; and along the way we learn that the more autonomy we give our employees, the more productive and happy they are.
Of course, it takes some time. I think my friend Rick is a good ways from total control, but not yet at supported independence — a place where you understand that the less they need you, the better leader you’ve become.
The funny thing is that it’s usually not hard to figure out what changes need to be made. When I asked Rick what his ideal manager would be like, he described exactly the ideal manager he should become. For some reason, however, that’s something which must be consciously reflected upon, lest we get those two concepts disassociated and transformed into some kind of reverse golden rule. But I think my buddy’s going to get it, and I think he’s going to let his people fly. If only his boss would do the same for him.