Andrew Carnegie may have made lots of money, and given away almost all he didn’t lavishly spend on himself, but I don’t think anyone would cite him as an exemplary leader or manager of men. While reaping huge profits, he refused to pay his workers one cent more than the prevailing market rate; and constantly chided, cajoled, and pestered those he appointed to run his businesses, while traveling the world in search of pleasant climes and company.
I’ve read and listened to lots of biographies, many have inspired — George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt (rise to power and presidency), Winston Churchill — while some have left me flat, such as the aforementioned Carnegie. I just didn’t connect with the great philanthropist. To be sure, the man who actually ran Carnegie Steel, Henry Clay Frick, was no saint, being known as a ruthless strike breaker and, at one point, “the most hated man in America.” But it’s important to know that Frick and Carnegie were in lockstep on the policies that gained Frick his reputation. Carnegie, out of sight, but never out of Frick’s hair, stayed in constant communication through letters and the recently laid Transatlantic Cable.
And that’s one of the things that bothered me about Carnegie — the fact that he wanted Frick to run the business, but never stepped back to the point that a good manager should. He wanted Frick to take full responsibility for the plants and business while he traipsed around the planet, firing off “suggestion after suggestion” about how things should be done.
As leaders, there is a huge lesson here — when you delegate something, do it with your whole heart and soul. This is often difficult because you remain ultimately responsible for the results. Your managers don’t want to hear — nor should you ever say — that you, “Handed this off to Jimmy, and he just didn’t come through.” Thus, the temptation is to take a look at everything Jimmy produces before it becomes public or finalized, but this would be a huge mistake. In the back of Jimmy’s head, you see, will always be the knowledge that someone is going to review this before it’s released, meaning he, Jimmy, is not ultimately responsible. I’ve seen this in past jobs, where someone outside of editorial would send a letter or piece of marketing collateral to an editor, “Just for a quick review.” But what was being accomplished was far from a quick review. In fact, the sender was passing the buck of responsibility to the editor. “Hey, Frank proofed it, so you need to talk to him.”
The last one to review something feels a deep responsibility to get it right. As a manager, always serving as the last safety net of review may make you feel good, but is detrimental to the professional growth of the person you manage. Yes, you are still ultimately responsible, meaning you’re taking on significant risk. That means you must prepare for your team member to, at least once, get it very wrong. A few jobs ago, as a fairly junior editor, my manager went on vacation and left the final magazine proofs for me to handle. Do you know how I repaid her confidence? By actually publishing a typo on the cover. I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out.
Did she do the wrong thing by trusting me? No, I don’t think so. She displayed the mark of a true manager, a true leader for whom people will do anything because they know they’re believed in. There is a price to pay for this — and she paid it, I’m sure, in subsequent meetings with her manager.
Leadership is about getting the best out of those who work for you, and that is done by trusting them not just with the small, but the big. Your trust will not be betrayed, but occasionally tested. It is in these moments that you can make or break someone’s confidence and, thus, their ability to excel in the future. If you know they’ve invested the effort to get it right, but ultimately got it a bit wrong, go with a, “Don’t worry. Let’s figure out how this happened so we can do better next time.” I guarantee you they will. I did.