A friend recently asked for advice about a co-worker who we’ll call Steve. Steve, a Program Manager for a large government program, frequently complained about how busy he was and how he didn’t have time to do everything that was assigned to him. Knowing that some new hires had recently joined the team, my friend asked Steve if they were able to be of any help.
Steve replied, “I don’t have time to teach someone. It’s faster to just do it myself”.
My friend asked me, “How can I help Steve realize that doing it himself might be great for today, but doesn’t help tomorrow?”
This is a challenge often seen in the workplace. William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs are the authors of an outstanding book, Leadership Agility. Many valued employees are at what the authors call the “Expert Level”, or those who solve key problems. They state that experts’ “subordinates are treated largely as extensions of their manager” and tend to “work nose-to-the-grindstone”. The authors conclude that about 45 percent of today’s managers operate at the “Expert Level”.
Steve may not realize it, but he appears to be operating at the “Expert Level”. While probably a smart, informed, hard worker, Steve is limiting effectivenss – and his career potential. Do you perhaps find yourself falling into this pattern or know others who are like Steve?
Following are some potential fears and feelings of vulnerabilities that might be behind Steve’s behavior:
• Not being the expert: If Steve trained someone else to do the work, will this make him no longer the “Expert”?
• Being replaced: If other people know how to do what Steve’s doing, then might he be replaced?
• Control: If Steve’s team member doesn’t do something that he considers “perfect”, will others look unfavorably on Steve?
If you are so busy “DOING”, are you limiting yourself to always be the “DOER”. It can be a bit scary to let go and let others do their jobs their way.
You can start letting go by teaching your employees. When teaching, remember that your employee may do things differently than you, but being different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Consider the following as you teach:
• Be clear about the desired outcome – people will surprise you with their ingenuity and creativity. You don’t have to tell them how to do things; let them know what needs to be done and watch for the creative answers they provide
• Communicate the parameters and boundaries – it is important for team members to understand within what framework they can operate.
• Clearly communicate why the work is being done – adults typically learn better if they know why something is being done. Explain the purpose of the tasks, not just the specific activities that must occur.
As a leader, provide your team members the tools needed to do their job, and then allow them and support them to do it. You may be amazed at the outcomes and you will grow as a manager.