Managers, Stay out of the Way!

2 min Read Time

Successful managers learn how to stay out of the way and let their teams work effectively and independently. Staying out the way doesn’t mean putting your feet up on your desk and playing Angry Birds on your iPad while your team does all the hard work. It means creating an environment where smart people feel empowered to recognize, own and solve problems.
Here are some ideas to help you as a manger. I’ve included a few quotes from General George Patton, since apparently even our great military leaders advocate staying out of the way.

  1. Make decisions quickly. If you don’t know what to do, do something. As General Patton liked to say, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Don’t let your team stall while you deliberate on the perfect answer.
  2. Communicate what’s important: Continually communicate the metrics that are important to your organization and how they are trending. A common understanding of goals allows the distribution of decision making. George again: “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results”
  3. Cultivate ownership: Encourage strong ownership in all aspects of your business, but be careful not to create bottlenecks and single points of failure. Ownership shouldn’t imply dictatorship, but rather responsibility and stewardship.
  4. Just say no: Get comfortable saying no and helping others say no too. It’s much more fun to say yes but it’s as important to be clear on the things that you don’t want on your radar as the things you do. “One-half the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough - Josh Billings”
  5. Be supportive: Support the decisions of people on your team, even if you think you have a slightly better idea. The damage that you’ll do by dis-empowering someone almost certainly isn’t worth the incremental brilliance of your idea. Encourage people to disagree with you and question each others decisions. George said: “If everybody’s thinking alike, somebody isn’t thinking.”
  6. Foster great communication: Communication is critical in all organizations. Communication builds trust. Trust breeds autonomy. Never stop asking yourself how you can stimulate better communication both within and from your organization.
  7. Celebrate failure: As Grandpa Potts said in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, “There is magic in the wake of a fiasco.“ Encourage risk taking, celebrate failure and grow roses in the ashes of your disasters. The general once said “Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom.”
  8. De-emphasise roles: Precise role delineation encourages finger pointing and the blame game. Charge $20 to anyone that says “I’m a <blank>, it’s not my job to do <blank>”.
  9. Hire the best: If you don’t hire the right people, you can’t stay out of the way and all is lost. Hire smart, independent people that crave ownership and don’t fear responsibility. Hire enough great people and you might find some spare time to hone your Angry Birds skills.

John Quinn, VP Engineering and Anarchist,
doofdoofsf on Twitter, iphotonyc on Tumblr.

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