I have a theory that, if your team members can do the work to the appropriate timing, standard, and quality, then you can stop managing them. I have six words – each beginning with C, that managers should facilitate in the people they manage.
If team members are competent and consistent, they are able to complete tasks with confidence, camaraderie, and commitment, then, to be honest, get out of their way! Your job as their manager is largely over. They no longer need your input or presence, organization, or control to do the task.
And sometimes I come across a boss who has, indeed, achieved such a state (whether by luck or design).
"My team doesn't need me, I just let them get on with it. If they have a problem, they'll let me know."
What a great position to be in. And well done them! But there's failure looming here. And that is: failing to maintain visibility/communication in general.
Your job as their manager might now be diluted, but your job as their leader is now more important than ever.
As a leader, check IN with them, like, as a manager, you checked UP on them! Accompany them in their jobs; not to monitor for improvements necessarily, but to keep your feet on their ground. Maintain a gut understanding of what your followers go through on a day to day basis. Some call these "Back to the shop floor" days.
If you have team members in other locations, rock up and work from THEIR premises occasionally.
If you are a real "Top Dog" (of an organization with 50+ staff), make sure you address the entirety of your staff once a quarter; either in person or through the miracle of technology. Give your "State of the Nation" address, being as honest and transparent as circumstances allow.
Take part in leadership and management development programs that your followers or colleagues attend to be one of the delegates with them. Show that you, too, are on your own journey. Nothing is more important to the success of a leadership development program that the attendance of the leaders themselves!
Introduce other training sessions in person (especially induction training!) prior to handing over to whoever's taking the full session.
Consider writing a blog or monthly article or post on the intranet's social media section. Even better – record short videos and send them out.
I guess what I am saying is never give your followers reason to call you aloof, not present, invisible, or stuck in your ivory tower. They will accuse you of being out of touch with what's REALLY going on. And, however wrong they are, this is the impression you give when you are invisible to your followers. Your credibility is eroded quicker than a sandcastle in the wind.
This failure leads to followers feeling abandoned.
Followers end up losing respect for their leader. They "double guess" what's REALLY going on with you. Some will go to their boss's boss for clarity. When this failure manifests, team members re-trench, keep their heads down, uphold and justify their inherent fearfulness and potentially take anonymous pot-shots at the boss. Rumors abound, productivity drops to an all-time low, and good people leave.
If you eradicate all the other failures, then this seventh one might, just might, not be as important to your followers. But you can still drop the ball here. Followers need a connection with a real person not just a suit who turns up for high-level meetings.
Whatever you are to your organization's external stakeholders, you are the organization's internal ambassador. People will take their cue from YOUR behavior. Take a genuine interest in that set of people in your charge and they will follow you to the ends of the Earth.
Much of a team's success lies in the pattern of connection a leader has with direct reports and the way he or she empowers them to extend that pattern to his or her direct reports, and so on.
In a business environment that is woefully lacking in employee commitment, leaders who aren't actively connecting with people are themselves a liability.
What it all boils down to, is that business is about people. It always has been, and always will be. Too often businesses fall short, not because leaders don't understand the business, but because they don't understand what the people who work for them need in order to bring their best effort to work.
Your task is to book a day to accompany one of your team members on the "shop floor". Get curious about how things may have changed since YOU did the job. Ask questions to understand better what your people are going through and get back in touch with the coal face.
Our next lesson will wrap up all we have learned.