Question number 4: The perfect manager – superfluous?
What is left for you as a manager when your employees can help themselves?
In your career as a manager you may well have dealt with a boss that suffered from the horror vacui: the feeling of anxiety that befalls someone when he or she thinks that they do not have much to contribute, or when they are not in control. People suffering from horror vacui have a counterproductive tendency to make themselves feel important by keeping themselves busy with all kinds of stuff that isn’t that important. To fill the vacuum, they invent new things that they think will make them indispensable.
To cut this illusion short: throughout the world, the cemeteries are full of indispensable persons…
It’s normal practice to see yourself as indispensable and fully in charge, working long hours and interfering with almost everything your staff is working on. Isn’t that the self-image of the modern manager? Isn’t that what we all craved for when we first wanted to become a manager? Isn’t that the big illusion the corporate world wants us to believe and adhere to? It often sounds that way. However, reality teaches us a different, although less traditional, lesson: being on top of everybody and everything at all times is not only impossible, it’s counterproductive. In addition, our staff are intelligent people who come up with interesting ideas themselves without always needing their managers. Our staff — like you — like to do things independently and crave acknowledgement for their efforts. So, if we make the mistake of thinking that as managers we are the center of the universe, while we are confronted with an entirely different reality, then it’s pretty normal that we have to fight feelings of being superfluous once in a while.
Now relax, actually, there is nothing wrong with feeling a little superfluous!
If nothing else, it keeps your feet on the ground. Let’s look at this topic from a more constructive and solution-focused point of view. If management is the art of getting things done through people and you notice that your employees take care of themselves, then the simple conclusion is that you are a very effective manager. Instead of feeling superfluous, you should give both yourself and your employees a big compliment. However, there is still a lot left for you to do and maybe the following tasks are the core of your job as manager.
One, if what they do is working, your job is to help them do more of the same that works, by encouraging them. Two, while your staff are doing a good job, you have time to look over the horizon of the future and make plans for the longer term. In short, your staff is acting and you can be proactive. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what you can do when your staff are operating well on their own:
• Help your employees to grow by coaching them (not because they’re deficient but to ensure that things stay the way they are).
• Facilitate meetings.
• Manage by wandering about.
• Socialize and take care of the good working relationships throughout your team and company.
• Be the interface with other departments.
• Provide your staff with resources where needed.
• Encourage people.
• Give compliments on what your staff do well.
• Smooth out potential conflicts.
• Speak up for your team towards the outer world. (Be the “foreign minister.”)
• Think about long-term strategy.
To conclude: it’s a great honor and pleasure to be the manager of a team that is able to do its work independently of you. It enables you to oncentrate
on your core task: helping them to do more of what works.