We've recently stressed in a few blogs that managers must develop and strengthen their people so they can solve their own problems. For various reasons it's a concept that many find tough to put into practice. But until they can do so, they won't be able to fulfill their core purpose of creating a business that can literally function (and prosper) in their absence.

HOWEVER... there is a caveat to add to this point.

As a manager, there are times when you should act as the problem solver.

Let us explain: For the vast majority of the time, the problems that our people bring to us are nothing challenging. Maybe the problems are challenging to them, but for us they're merely time-consuming details. And it's exactly for this reason that you need to push these problems – the monkeys, as we call them – back to your people. It allows them to develop and allows us the management time to remain focused on higher 'value-adding' activities.

However, there are the occasions when an employee will bring to us a problem that's unique, unheard of, or maybe even revolutionary that could not have been anticipated. Hmm, we're well past monkeys here; we're now talking gorillas. How should you handle problems like this? And you do need to deal with them, because certainly the employee could not be expected to know what to do! Even so, always seek their input as to how they would suggest it be handled.

Of course the distinction between monkeys and gorillas isn't always so cut and dry – and that's where your good judgment (one of many shared characteristics of effective leaders) is required. Whilst we can't offer prescriptive criteria for how to make this call – after all, the circumstances surrounding each scenario will be different – we can tell you that before considering any issue like this, be clear about what your priorities are. Consider what outcomes are truly critical versus those that are just ideal? What the team must achieve today versus what can wait for tomorrow? Your judgment is based directly on these priorities, so without a clear mental construct of what should take precedence, you'll be in a poor position to make that call on whether you've got a monkey or a gorilla on your hands; in other words, if the problem should stay with your people or if you should take it on.

Nearly every problem an employee brings to you (even most of those that they deem as serious) can be solved by them. The employee may require some guidance and counseling from you, but the only way they can develop is by retaining ownership of the problem, and acting on it. But be on the lookout for those circumstances when your intervention actually is required. When you have a set of well-ordered priorities you will be able to judge when that is or isn't necessary.

Posted: 26/07/2011 6:26:58 PM by Andy Klein | with 1 comments
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In the wake of the phone hacking scandal that's engulfed News Corporation, with each day bringing new accusations, arrests, resignations and sackings, Rupert Murdoch earlier this week ran a signed letter in several British newspapers, with the headline, "We are sorry". In it, he apologised for the actions of his newspaper, saying, "We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred.

Rupert Murdoch Phone Hacking We Are Sorry

The cynical among us may believe that this letter was simply part of an orchestrated PR campaign, and that may be true. But even if it is, it's good to see this admission of accountability come directly from the highest levels of News Corp. There are many organisations that would remain in denial for as long as possible (if not forever), until their hand was forced.

However, it's interesting to note the choice of words in this published letter, specifically right there in the headline: "We are sorry."

Before anything else, leaders must accept personal accountability. In other words, they must accept full responsibility for the actions of those under their watch... both the good and the bad. Failure to do so is the first of the 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make. And it's the very first one for a reason because if you can't do that, there's no hope – you shouldn't even worry about the other 12!

So when Murdoch says, "We are sorry" – not "I am sorry" – there's reason for pause. Who exactly is "sorry"? And by extension, who is holding themselves accountable? By apologising on behalf of "we", is Murdoch sidestepping his personal accountability? Based on his recent testimony to a committee of British Members of Parliament, in which he did not accept responsibility for the scandal, it certainly appears as though he's doing just that.

If Murdoch truly believes he bears no accountability for the actions of those he "trusted to run [News of the World]", then perhaps it's best that he bows to the latest rumours and steps aside as CEO of the media conglomerate. Right now News Corp requires a leader who can take explicit personal accountability and acknowledge that any improprieties by anyone underneath them are ultimate their responsibility. Doing so may be very painful in the present, but it's the best course of action for laying a foundation for recovery into the future.

Posted: 20/07/2011 4:41:39 PM by Andy Klein | with 1 comments
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Last week we wrote how micromanagers damage businesses in two specific ways, with one of them being that they rob employees of accountability, thus impeding an important part of their development. Managers suffering from Management OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), our term for micromanagers, can deprive employees of being held accountable because they don't trust them. And sadly, too often the stage of the manager-employee relationship at which this distrust can sometimes be the greatest is at the beginning, right after the employee gets on the manager's team.

Although we may lament this, we know exactly how most micromanagers would counter: "Trust must be earned by my people – I can't just give it to them!"

We've had this debate a thousand times with managers: Is trust earned or given? Micromanagers are generally a lost cause; they adamantly believe that trust must be earned. But even some really great managers see this as a true dilemma, as if it was a chicken and egg scenario with no right answer. But to us, there is a right answer, and that's that managers must give their trust to employees... right from Day 1.

As a manager, when you start from a philosophical foundation and position of trust with your people, you bring out their maturity (and yes, also their lack of it from time to time!), which instills in them that sense of responsibility, ownership and accountability. Of course it's essential to establishing a framework for their role, the results you expect and how they will be measured, but also make it clear that you're there to provide support and guidance when it's needed. Then step back and let your people get on with the job. As long as you're monitoring them, you can always step in if things are off track or you sense them heading that way.

Conversely, when you start from a position of distrust and scrutinise every detail of activity, you stifle people's sense of accountability and create an environment of hostility, immaturity and dependency. Maybe worst of all you demonstrate a lack of respect for your people – and if you don't respect them, why should they respect you?

To us, there's no debate: So long as you structure the job effectively so they understand what it is and how to do it, trust should always be given. The manager who expects it to be earned sets the wrong precedent and can tear a team down.

Posted: 19/07/2011 6:23:23 PM by Peter Miller | with 3 comments
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Last month we wrote that managers must be problem finders and givers, not problem solvers. When managers fail to do so they create two significant, longer-term problems: (1) they rob their people of development opportunities and (2) they divert their own energy away from the higher-level activities on which they should be focused. To be effective, managers must embrace this concept and, if necessary, get beyond the emotional roadblocks (such as needing to be needed and feeling guilty) that often inhibit them from living up to it.

Today let's turn our attention to the other side of the equation, to those managers who have no trouble being problem finders and givers. Because while executing on this concept is usually a good thing, there are some managers who allow the pendulum to swing so far the other way that they overdo it, thus turning a strength into a liability.

We've all dealt with these managers: They look for and dissect the tiniest of problems, they hound their people day and night, they demand to be told about every last detail. With all of this oversight and follow-up, the outcome is obvious – they stifle their people's ability to function, to take initiative and critically, to be accountable.

Of course these meticulous problem finders are popularly referred to as micromanagers. But at Fortune, we like to say that they're suffering from Management OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) – and it's a malady that strikes far too many managers.

The obsessive problem-solving manager and the manager with Management OCD create surprisingly similar problems for themselves and their organisation. They......

  1. Deprive people of development opportunities
    Clearly employees don't only develop by learning how to solve their problems but also by being held accountable. It becomes very difficult for employees to develop any sense of responsibility or ownership when a manager demands to be kept abreast of the most trivial of tasks. This produces employees who emotionally check out... and it may not take long until they physically check out and leave the company! (Or worse, they stick around for the 'free' ride they're allowed to take by dysfunctional leadership. In some organisations it's known as the '2 or 20 rule': leave within 2 years or stay for life!)
  2. Lose sight of priorities
    Managers suffering from Management OCD get compulsively lost in the minutiae of activity and lose focus on what's really important: the business objectives and goals. It's the unfortunate trap of focusing on pleasing activities rather than results; this myopic tunnel vision confuses and distracts people, and what they're working towards, and as a result team performance suffers.

To be sure, many managers have a tough time finding that appropriate ground between being a problem solver and being the problem finder. But with sound ongoing management training and coaching, organisations can support their managers to determine where to draw that line and make the right decisions that will produce functional and effective leadership and teams.

Posted: 12/07/2011 9:47:13 PM by Andy Klein | with 1 comments
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In a blog last month on what managers must do to be effective, we defined management's purpose as being about creating an entity that will function (and prosper) in our absence. Unfortunately, all too often we find that managers undermine this purpose, and their effectiveness, by taking on their people's problems......unnecessarily!

Taking on employees' problems is problematic for a couple of reasons: First, it affords managers less time to fulfill their own job demands, such as managing higher-level activities and solving their boss' problems (which is where they really should be spending their time). Second – and most critically to our topic at hand – it deprives employees of development opportunities that managers should encourage them to experience if they're to build that entity that can function without them. Plus, if a manager isn't letting their people solve their own problems, what exactly are they paying them to do?!?

To put it bluntly: If you're taking on your people's problems, you're robbing them and the business of growth opportunities.

It's such a simple and seemingly straightforward concept, yet managers everywhere are taking on their people's problems every day! Why do managers so easily gravitate towards doing so? Here are two reasons:

  1. They have an emotional need to be needed. As we detailed last month, over the course of our personal lives (and usually the early part of our professional lives) we develop a deeply engrained emotional need to be needed, one that compels us to embrace and feed off the role of being a problem solver – to care for and attend to others. We want others to rely on us... it makes us feel important and needed.
  2. They experience a sense of guilt. Because of the immediate 'pain' that managers recognise an employee will experience when they push a problem back on them, they often have an extraordinarily tough time doing so. It's never easy to say to an employee, especially those with which a manager has a good relationship, words to the effect of: "No, this is your responsibility." Plus, both parties know that the manager can probably solve the problem faster and more immediately than the employee – and it's likely the manager has even personally worked through an identical problem in the past. So it's natural for both parties to wonder, even if not aloud, "Why doesn't the manager handle this?"

To be sure, it's certainly easier said than done to shun the emotional need to be needed or to ignore feelings of guilt – that's why so many newly-promoted managers (and even some longstanding ones!) struggle with these issues. And even when they grasp this intellectually and acknowledge the value of employees dealing with their own problems , the immediate gratification promised by doing otherwise or the emotional tension of pushing back causes managers to fall into this (often fatal) trap.

Time to grow up managers! Your people and business depend on you to manage competently, and one of the key characteristics of competent managers and leaders is emotional maturity......and that means confronting any inadequacies you have so that you can deal with the issues above effectively.

But to be effective, managers must resist taking the 'comfortable' way out and instead take the tougher (often painful) steps that will enable employees to develop into strong and capable people who can competently function in our absence.

Posted: 5/07/2011 8:01:02 PM by Andy Klein | with 5 comments
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