Most individuals’ rise within an organization based on their proven track record; that is after all the basis of “merit promotion”. Therefore, most first line managers are selected based on their technical skill and often succeed in their first management position by exercising their superior technical knowledge rather then developing management skills. My own experience was that all to often second level and even top-level managers placed far more value and faith in their technical abilities then in their management skills. I found this even more true in the world of consulting where few people even gave “lip service’ to the value of professional management. Managers who over value their own technical abilities tend to micro-manage all decisions, or certainly any decision viewed as important. Subordinates quickly realize their input has little value because “the boss” is the font of all knowledge. Unfortunately, every success a manger has based on his/her technical expertise and every mistake of a subordinate further encourages the manager to rely on his or her own expertise. Ultimately such managers find themselves working excessive hours in order to micro-manage all decisions until they reach a point where they fail, when they are promoted to a job too complex for all decisions to be centralized to one person.
The workplace is not a democracy and managers at each level must retain “51% of the vote” on all decisions because they are ultimately responsible for outcomes. However, managers are also responsible for the development of subordinates. If a manager believes that the quality of decisions/outcomes will always be greater if he/she makes the decisions (and they may be partially correct in this perception if in fact they have far greater knowledge and experience), yet recognizes the need to develop subordinates; they are faced with a “Hobson’s Choice”, maximum performance versus development of subordinates.
Good managers recognize they need to balance these two somewhat conflicting demands and understand that the long term health of an organization is very much dependent on the growth of it’s employees. Managers need to delegate responsibility to subordinates starting with low-pressure (low risk-low reward) decisions and allowing subordinates to assume greater responsibility as they prove their effectiveness. The key ingredient is to share with subordinates how you, as the manager approach decisions (i.e. where and when to extract data, what factors need to be considered..etc), then allow them to move forward on their own. The manager becomes a safety net, allowing subordinates to make mistakes in order to learn but not allowing major errors that would significantly impact operations. Managers often find (to their surprise) that the quality of decisions actually improves with the fresh perspective and “additional input” resulting from the delegation.
Photo Attributed to Flickr user “degreezero2000” according to Creative Commons License.