Are you an advice giving junkie?
Sarah Smith, CIH associate trainer, offers her thoughts on knowing when to let go as a manager.I had to travel to Birmingham for a modular course last autumn. I wasn’t expecting to work with this group and had stood in for another facilitator. As I usually do, at the beginning of the course I asked some questions to help everyone settle back into the management development conversation. Each delegate took a turn to speak and then one delegate told a surprising story.
“On the last module, Barry said that as managers we should be pushing back, delegating more, coaching rather than constantly giving advice and spoon feeding our teams. That got me thinking. You see, I pride myself on having good ideas. I’m excited by ideas – thinking of new ones, finding out about other peoples’, applying them in my work. I often give my team ideas. I say ‘Let’s do such and such’ and then they go off and do it. Except that sometimes they don’t.
In the summer, I had this fantastic idea about how to engage residents in rural areas as part of a consultation exercise. I told the team that I wanted them to run a surgery on the mobile libraries so that people could pop in and let us know their views. The team agreed. I was excited. Well, since then nothing had happened. I’d asked a few times about progress and there has always seemed to be this reason or that reason that prevented things happening. The weather was getting colder and I was worrying that if we left it too much longer, people would be less likely to come out of their homes. So, spurred on by what we learnt on the course, I took a breath and raised this at the team meeting. I said ‘There doesn’t seem to be much will for the surgeries idea. I wonder what other ideas you might have to get this consultation going’. A couple of the team exchanged glances and said, ’Actually, we’ve had a chat and we think it would work much better if we asked the Parish Councillors to talk to us. They know their areas and what the burning issues are. We’d be happy to arrange meetings with them.’ That idea simply hadn’t occurred to me and the more they talked, the more I could see that they were energised and committed. So, I agreed. Since then a couple of meetings have been held and more are planned. The team are getting some really useful feedback from the councillors and building good bridges with the local representatives. I haven’t had to chase for progress at all.”
We could all see the relief on her face. Her team had ownership over the issue. They had come up with a solution and so their desire to make it work was far stronger.
“How do you feel now?” I asked her. “Well, the strange thing is, that I was really worried about this idea of letting go and not giving so much advice. I thought things would fall apart and people wouldn’t know what to do. The reverse has been true. I realise I’ve been treating my team like children. That may have been right for them once, but they’ve grown in experience and ability now and my style needs to change if they are going to grow even more. And....by letting go, I feel like a better manager.”
What she had come to realise was the power of a coaching style. This doesn’t mean she’ll never be directive again or offer another idea. Of course she will and there are times when this will be absolutely the right approach. What she’s noticing and learning through flexing her own style though is that when we give people permission to explore their own ideas, we will often get far greater commitment and far less compliance.
Find out more information about our Four Day Managers Programme on our website.