Sometimes the Best Management Is To Take a Back Seat

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say ‘We did it ourselves’”

Lao Tzu

Management is probably more of an art than a science – sometimes you need to get actively involved in an issue and other times you need to stand aside and let your staff get on with it.

Significantly, if you do not get it right, your staff can become demotivated and few companies perform well when their staff is unhappy.

First, recognise that you are not always right

It is natural to think that as the leader you have been put there because you make the correct decisions. Research shows that this is not always true.

Currently, one of the big fads is “Management By Walking Around” (MBWA) whereby you spend a lot of time observing your staff at work. Whilst doing this you usually engage in a running commentary on the best way of doing their tasks.

When the matter is relatively simple, your instructions are normally correct (but ask yourself do you really need to intervene here?) but when the matter is complex, you are just as often wrong with the advice you are dispensing. Complicated issues take plenty of thought and study before the optimal solution is discovered.

Spontaneous orders should not be issued in these cases unless you have dealt with this problem before. When you give your staff an incorrect instruction, it undermines your credibility apart from the cost of setting your remedy aside.

In a recent study of 56 managers, it was found that performance improvement was higher with managers who do not practice MBWA.

How do you know when not to intervene?

One example in a case study is a manager who deliberately spends time with hostile employees.  She believes that even if they don’t openly confront her, she will get a good idea of whether they think she is interfering too much.

Another method is to actively cultivate frank dialogue with your staff. This is not always easy to do but if you make a point of accepting their criticisms, they will be encouraged to speak their mind. We always speak about being open and transparent in our day to day interrelations with employees, so try to practise it.

A good leader makes every effort to understand his or staff so that they respect and work for the good of the business. Look for the little signals your staff send out when they have doubts about your management.

Being attuned to your staff and knowing when to step in decisively (e.g. in a crisis) or when to take a step back (unlocking a multi-faceted problem) will yield better results and will make your business a place where your employees are happy and positive.