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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Don't Delegate? Can't Manage

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
     True or false?

     That depends. If you’re a champion individual contributor, it’s true as can be. If you’re trying to be a good manager, it’s profoundly false.
     It depends upon your definitions, too. What is the “something” in the saying, and what is meant by “done right.”?
     If you’re charged with performing a task yourself, then the measurement of successful completion of it arises from how well you performed the actions that produced the desired result. If you carried the work out in an excellent fashion, you’re a champ.
     If, on the other hand, you are responsible for having the task done and are given personnel to do that sort of thing, you’re failing to do your job if you do the work yourself. The fact that you might have done it superbly is irrelevant. It wasn’t your job to do the work – it was your job to see that someone else did it.

     If you supervise another person in the doing of the work, and the result is excellent, then you are a fine manager. If the result is not so good, you may still be a good manager. You may, in fact, be an outstanding manager. That, too, depends.

     One description of management is that it is competence in dealing with ambiguity. Good managers are people who don’t necessarily need the comfort of structure. They accomplish anyway, working with indistinct factors.
     There often can be nothing quite as ambiguous as the human personality.  Getting people to do stuff, consistently and well, is challenging. They’re all different in their abilities, attitudes and aptitudes. The same person isn’t the same every day, or even throughout the same day.
     Skill in orchestrating a skittering bunch of these differing, changing assets does not come easily. Few people are born with that skill – maybe no one at all is. You must have, or develop, a high level of combined tolerance and firmness, as well as a raft of leadership skills.
     Competence in doing a defined job most definitely is not one’s ticket to admittance to management, even management of people in that line of work. It is only randomly likely that a superior skill practitioner also possesses management talent.
     Those are not the only points of consideration for managers. Another is the ability to spot talent, sometimes deeply buried in counterproductive learned behaviors. Closely related, and not at all easy to learn, is the skill to nurture budding potential and convince the owner of it to pursue the disciplines required to fulfill it.
     The good people manager, therefore, is adept at salesmanship and teaching. Not everyone can practice empathy with people who don’t know what you learned 30 years ago. Especially when it may take multiple hard knocks to bring that dawning.

     Too often, people headed for management get only part of the way there, winding up unhappily stuck in a permanent state of low competence that is tough on the would-be manager and hell on the person’s bosses, colleagues and subordinates.
     This is where DIY addicts are born. They simply fail to ever achieve strengths in the practices and behaviors we’re talking about. So they fall back on what they know how to do, leaving the higher-level management work undone.
     Or they develop practices that help them survive the pressures of management, but do not make them truly competent at the work.
     Organizations are extremely inefficient when this syndrome infects them. Morale is poor. Relationships are grim. You don’t want to work there.     
     This tendency to do it yourself is fatal to success in the managerial situation. If only we all could receive adequate training as we become managers, much grief – and immense waste – would be eliminated from our workplaces.
     So we’re often left with do-it-yourself solutions to management education. We need to accomplish it through two curricula: Job definition and personal productivity practices.

     The fundamental necessity is to establish with detail and clarity what this position calls for. It’s amazing, when you think about it, how often people enter into such a job without a full exploration of definitions, authority, limitations and other vital components.
     Too often, both the new manager and the appointing authority never have that conversation. The relationship is launched on a dark sea of unarticulated assumptions or make-it-up confidence . . . and is tossed sooner or later in a typhoon of exploded expectations.
     So, instead, you determine to treat this challenge as an unexperienced way of life. You probe for what you’re expected to know, do and accomplish. You listen carefully and observe thoroughly. You’re honest and open about what you don’t understand and can’t now do. You pursue mentorship and education.
     You worry not at all about appearing to be not up to it. You’re not up to it. You’ve never done it, and everyone knows that. They’ll cut you slack . . . for a while. Be mature enough to take advantage of the leeway.
     The second important demand at this time is to change your behavior.
     You must act on a clear understanding that you have to consciously, sometimes painfully, undo so much of what has become automated as you’ve been doing it every day as an accomplished professional in your previous job.     
     Being continuously alert to that reality, you now are going to do your best to require every moment to justify its place in your new way of life.

     And finally: The management skill that underlies every other management skill –personal productivity.
     How well you manage your priorities . . . long term, monthly, weekly, daily, hourly. Why do you talk to this person instead of working on that report? Why do you let this meeting run 25 minutes over? When are you going to finish fleshing out that proposal? Are you doing enough training?
     When you’re a manager, much more of your time is discretionary, in that the scheduling of your obligations is much more up to you. At the same time, there are many more of those obligations than there used to be, and they are more complicated and uncertain than they ever were before.
     If you address the position from the individual-contributor point of view, you’re lost. There is an impossible blizzard of demands, possibilities, requirements and problems. They don’t wait in line. You can’t turn to someone for answers to most of them.
     As a matter of fact, a seemingly endless stream of people are turning to you – while you’re juggling all these issues.
     Your answers are embedded in your problems. You empower people, and they are the first responders to many of those problems. Your primary job is to equip yourself to equip others.   

     It’s management. It’s how you really do it right. It’s delegating.  

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