To be highly effective, managers must overcome the need to be needed

Last month I read an article by Mary Jo Asmus, Are You Preparing Others to Function Without You?, in which Mary Jo relates a personal anecdote of going to a physical therapist with a leader's responsibility of ensuring "that your team can function without you." She ends with suggesting three activities – developing, mentoring and stretching others – which leaders can perform with their people as a means to reach this end.

For those familiar with Fortune's leadership development program, Mary Jo's line will undoubtedly sound very familiar. In discussing the responsibilities of management, Steve Brown says:

"Management at any level has one major purpose, and that is to create an entity that will function (and prosper) in our absence."

The way you rate a manager is not 'how badly do the people need the manager' but 'what can they do without the manager'. To create such an entity, we must develop and strengthen people. It's a basic, core concept, but one that many managers have difficulty appreciating, respecting and living up to.

For example, when we're facilitating leadership training sessions, we always take a morning break around 10/10:30. To participants, it's an innocent 15 minutes to relax, maybe get a coffee. But to us, it's a test that can gauge who has or hasn't done a good job of developing their people. The test is simple: Whoever calls their office flunks the exam. If they can't take time out to invest in 'creative time' then they haven't done their job! If they can't go so much as half a morning without the need to 'check' on their people, how can they ever expect them to function in their absence!

Unfortunately the reality is that it's easier said than done to make our people independent of us, not dependent on us, because as humans we have an emotional need to be needed. In fact, most of us have spent the majority of our lives working and causing people to become emotionally dependent upon us. We've encouraged our children or friends or spouse or partner to bring their problems to us. For those of you who've functioned in a sales role, it was actually your job to take care of the customer's problems. So when we find ourselves in management (usually by accident!), we want our people to bring their 'problems' to us. And because we have this tremendous emotional need to be needed we (often unwittingly) cause people to become dependent on us. Sometimes this need is so deep-rooted that many managers will create a problem just to feel needed!

By overcoming this emotional need to be needed, managers accomplish two things. First, as Mary Jo establishes, they can turn their attention towards supporting their people's growth and development, and accordingly that of the business. And second, managers afford themselves creative time – we like to call it "heads on" time (versus "hands on" time) – to think about how to improve and grow the business.

Managers: Do you feel that emotional need to be needed? Are you injecting yourself into your people's work too much, or perhaps taking over responsibility for many tasks at the first sign of a problem? If so, take a step back, place more trust in your employee's abilities, and empower them to act as they see fit. By doing so, you'll foster your people's growth and free up more time for yourself – time that can be spent strategising how you can continue to move the business forward.

Posted: 3/05/2011 6:38:33 PM by Andy Klein | with 2 comments
Filed under: development, leadership, management
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Andy Klein
Thank you for the comment Vera, glad to get you thinking about that! It's certainly something that most of us have to consciously consider on a frequent basis.
5/05/2011 8:46:17 AM

Vera Randall
This reminder of letting go of the need to be needed is appreciated - it provides more thinking time - and the opportunity for others to blossom and grow.
4/05/2011 11:40:21 AM