At just aged six, my son is already learning to be independent. He washes and dresses himself he can run his own bath get his own drinks, breakfast and little things like that. At the weekend I took in him for his swimming lesson, and afterwards I told him to have a shower which he did, and then handed him his towel and told him to get dried and dressed, which he did with no assistance from me.
I happened to notice that very many children who were clearly two or three years older than him were being washed, dried and dressed by their mothers. I wondered why this was. Is it that the children aren’t capable? Is it that the mothers find it quicker and easier to do it for them? Or is it that they don’t want their kids to grow up so that they still feel needed?
In my professional life as a bespoke training designer, I’m lucky to go into lots of diverse organisations to research and design management training programs. One of the most common problems I come across is managers who aren’t managing… They are still ‘doing’. It made me wonder if the root cause of both these situations is the same.
Many new managers are just thrown in at the deep end, with little or no training or even discussion about what’s expected. It’s an important role and many like to feel needed by their team, and may feel they have to earn the respect of team members (especially if they are promoted from within). Often they do this by solving problems for team members rather than asking them to sort things out themselves. Other times new managers, with an eye on targets and results, feel that it’s quicker and easier to do things themselves. Another reason is the new managers want to be seen to be pulling their weight and doing just as much if not more work than the other members in the team.
Whether you are a mum or a manager, the best managers (and parents) are those who can be absent and be confident that everything is going to be okay. That is why I am actively encouraging my children to take responsibility for themselves. Ultimately I’m doing them no favours if I continue to do everything for them, and the same is true for managers.
Managers who do everything for their team are also in danger or damaging things in the long term. Team members who aren’t allowed to ‘grow up’ will ultimately either rebel, leave or become a burden that the manager has to carry indefinitely. It’s also worth remembering that managers who are indispensable are also unpromotable. New managers must learn to delegate and give responsibility and accountability to people. Providing coaching and other support is of course important, but they should remember that in the end, team members need to do things for themselves.
And what does this mean for HR and L&D teams? Well, we need to make sure that new managers are clear about what they MUST do, and what’s ‘nice’ to do. New managers are usually told about all the extra things that they must do, but are rarely told what they can STOP doing, so they end up trying to do it all, and often failing. A new manager’s induction programme can be incredibly useful and help managers to make the transition from team player to team leader. It will also increase their confidence as they move out of their comfort zone, and lack of clarity and confidence is often what holds them back.