Many people love managing a team. I was one of those. It always felt like both an (earned) responsibility and an honor to lead and develop others. To me, it was a creative exercise to be given a big job and figure out how to break it up and assign smaller pieces thoughtfully. Most importantly, to help others foster a sense of development, challenge and joy - yes, joy - in the process. Some people naturally crave this type of role, and for others it just lands in their lap without much notice or training.
However you find yourself managing others, any notion that managing is easier than “just doing it yourself” is quickly dispelled. It takes one day on the job to realize that there is way more involved in managing instead of simply doing, and there is also a lot more at stake.
There are three things you quickly learn when managing people, and each of them reveals a huge developmental leap for you as a manager.
It requires thoughtful planning. Whether you’re managing a team or just delegating something, putting in quality time and effort upfront pays off. In a time-strapped environment, most bypass this because, who has time to invest time? Couldn’t I just do it on my own at that point? Yes, but then you wouldn’t be a manager. And it isn’t enough to just plan, you have to be thoughtful. Really thinking about how and when the work needs to get done, and what you need to do to enable others to get there. Sometimes it may require a heavier hand and lots of coaching, and in other cases, you can let go a bit more. Either way, setting aside to time to think about your team with your head and your heart is important. Ask yourself - What do I need to do upfront to set this person up for success? Because their success is a reflection of you and your work as a manager.
You have to let go of control. The need for control usually comes from fear or lack of confidence. There is a common mentality I hear all that time that “only I can do this right”. Not only do you not have time to do it all yourself, but some of the best and most creative ideas will come from others if they’re given the runway and some autonomy. Letting go of control is hard in work and life and inherently feels risky. But with risk often comes great reward. Ask yourself - What am I afraid will happen if I let go of control, and how can I lessen that risk?
You’re actually still “doing” a lot. Yep, you may not be responsible for doing some of the grunt work but you’ll still be accountable for the output. Quality control, managing deadlines and setting expectations are areas that are, in part, a manager's responsibility. That doesn't mean you can’t empower someone else to manage those things (because you can and should!), but ultimately you have to be prepared to own the team’s output. You can work with your team using informal check-ins, brainstorming sessions and productive feedback to be involved at the right moments in the process, and ultimately get solid work across the line. Setting up these structures in an empowering way is key to getting the best work from your team. Ask yourself - What are the high-value areas where I need to step in?
I recently read a quote - “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” Keeping the ship in port is like doing it all on your own. Never letting go of control, or taking the time to make a plan, or leaning on your team. The reality is you don’t get anywhere that way. The boat will rock and the boat may drift off-course, but a crew together will get it back on course.
What is your highest aim as a manager leading others?