Does Your Career Need a “Do Nothing” Manager?

Professional man making a chart to delegate tasksAre you as uneasy about the advice that people in leadership receive to “delegate, delegate, delegate” as I am? Probably not.  But, there’s a shadow side of delegation that I’m sure you’ve felt even though you couldn’t identify the reason for your discontent.

The phrase “the dark side of delegation” popped into my thoughts a few weeks back. So, I whipped out my phone, typed the phrase “the dark side of delegation” into Google in my Droid’s Chrome browser, and (to my great pleasure) found one self-reflective soul out in the digital realm who perfectly described and addressed my concerns!

Wrong Motives: The Underbelly of Delegation

The author of the post, “The Dark Side of Delegation (my exact phrasing!), talks about how he noticed an “unpleasant attitude” develop within himself after delegating as much as he could. He writes that he began to view the work that he delegated as “beneath him” and that he felt an ego boost when passing off “low level” tasks that he thought were stupid and that he didn’t want to do. He also admits that he began to view the people to whom he delegated those tasks as “less important” than him. That’s it! There’s the dark side.

Based on his own experience, this author encourages each of us to stop and examine our intentions the next time we delegate something by asking ourselves the question: “Am I delegating for the right reasons and with the right attitude?”

Here’s my preliminary definition of the right reasons and right attitude about delegation that we can use as professionals in our workplaces:

  • Right reasons means that both staff and leaders develop professionally through acts of delegation
  • Right attitude indicates that we recognize that all tasks and professionals who perform them deserve respect and appreciation

What’s been your experience with the delegation of tasks in your workplaces? Do you think delegation’s been done for the right reasons AND with the right attitude?

Delegation: The M.O. of the “Do Nothing” Manager

Delegation is hyped as the solution to prevent one of the experiences that most professionals, like you and I dread: a MICROMANAGER. The dominant idea that I’ve encountered is that a micromanager is created when a professional is not able to let go of performing more front line work, such as coding or writing, which he’s excelled at during his career.

J. Keith Murnighan, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management and author of the book Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader, states that leaders who do too much are seen as “micromanagers.” Murnighan believes, like many others, that successful leaders should delegate as much of the everyday work as possible to staff in order to free their time to “facilitate and orchestrate” the performance of those who report to them. He believes that this leadership approach improves morale, generates a better product, and creates less stress for the “do nothing” leader.

Murnighan also suggests that a leader “walk the floor” of his work environment and ask people two questions: “How are you?” and “Is there anything I can do to make your job easier?” Man working on laptop with stacked binders around himMurnighan believes that these questions allow a leader to signal that he cares about the staff that works with him and that this strategy will promote better performance among staff.

Let me tell you why this advice sounds like a nightmare come true to me.

Imagine that you’re sitting at your desk working through an important problem or task and/or you’re facing a fast approaching deadline and your supervisor (who has taken this advice) stops by randomly to ask you these “alleged” attentive questions.

If I were sitting in your seat, I’d want to tell this “do nothing” leader to scram, beat it, or “go kick rocks,” a phrase my friend imagined saying to a supervisor who fit the micromanager profile.

And, your need to focus in that critical moment may be labeled as you not being a “team player” or being “rude” by not stopping to accommodate this person following misguided advice! Questions like Murnighan suggests supervisors use in daily work interactions are much better suited for a monthly check-in meeting or scheduled performance related meetings.

Micromanaging: The Do Nothing and Do Everything Syndrome

Wouldn’t it be awesome if delegation for the right reasons and with the right attitude prevented the menace of micromanagement in workplaces? Unfortunately, that is simply not the case.

Based on my own observations, I believe that micromanagement happens at the intersection of several factors that may or may not include a professional who has a difficult time transitioning out of his old role into his new one as supervisor. I believe that a more basic leadership issue is at play because there are some supervisors who micromanage staff about tasks that they themselves never performed.

I believe all micromanagers share one core issue in common: insecurity. They haven’t gotten clear within themselves about what to focus on in their work environments. So, they focus on the more obvious and “controllable” tasks that staff perform.

Would you like a supervisor who adopts the “do nothing” mentality? I would not. I want to know that my supervisor is working just as hard as I am for the organization. And, if you enjoy developing and improving your own skills, Professional man holding question mark signyou’d also vote a loud “no” for the “do everything” mentality. What’s the solution? Productive and purposeful workplaces where leaders develop the capacity to “do the right things.”

Right Leadership: The Commitment to Discover and Do the Right Things

A leader’s “right things” should be determined by her organization’s strategic objectives, her workplace culture, and her relationships with colleagues. More specifically, a “do the right things” leader focuses on her own development that includes staying current about and being able to share and possibly predict industry or domain trends, working outside her team to build relationships that strengthen results and provide additional resources, and developing effective communication and conflict resolution skills.

One of the best and most fulfilling work experiences that I’ve had involved an environment where my highly competent and driven colleagues and I all reported directly to a highly competent and driven Vice President. Did she attempt to micromanage us by interfering with our work? NO. Did she delegate everything and then walk around the office “facilitating” our work and asking us how we’re doing? NO, thank goodness!

Instead, we observed her building and facilitating relationships outside of our division, regularly attending conferences and meetings with industry stakeholders to hone her radar and to present her own thought leadership, sharing trends and insights with us and the rest of the organization, and responding in a timely manner when we requested her feedback or needed resources. She was a supervisor who was clear and secure in her role as a leader and it was obvious every day that I worked with her.

The result? What the “Do Nothing!” author is trying to accomplish in workplaces: my colleagues and I believed that our supervisor cared, which gave a boost to our desire to go above and beyond in each of our roles.

Would love to read and respond to your comments!

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Images courtesy of pakorn (professional man delegating and professional man with question mark) and Stuart Miles (man working at desk)

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