A trend I’ve seen over the past few months is managers, leaders, who seem to want to get involved in everything.

There is something about our prolonged experiment in mass remote working that is prompting managers to become insufferable busybodies, desperate to show their worth to the organisation by being seen to be doing something. Anything.

They are victims of what Cal Newport calls in his recent book, A World Without Email, the “hyperactive hive mind”. An email arrives in their inbox that they have been cc’d into, some conversation taking place between a member of their team and another team, and they are immediately getting involved.

They must be seen to add value by doing things.

It’s not good for anyone.

Let’s examine each individual involved, just to check if anyone is winning from the growth of this behaviour.

The Manager — The manager becomes super busy, not productive, busy; getting involved in all sorts of things that his team are working on, or trying to drive forward some else’s process that doesn’t need to be driven. While their doing this they’re not focussing on the strategic objectives that their supposed to be focussed on, they’re not leading or developing their team.

As the situation continues, they come to feel under more and more pressure to resolve more and more issues that are nothing to do with them. Working longer and longer hours trying to balance everything, all the stuff that they should be doing and all the stuff they’ve found themselves involved in. This leads to poor performance as a leader, and eventually, burnout.

So, not great.

The Team Member — With their manager hovering around and getting involved in everything, team members miss out on learning to solve issues for themselves. They also potentially miss out on the opportunity to lead groups to resolve issues, a key part in their development.

Team members who miss out on these things, and who have managers getting involved in everything that they do, will begin to relinquish ownership of their work. They’ll start to look for someone else to solve their issues, they will become disengaged, and instead of being proactive leaders, will become reactive passengers; waiting to be told what to do by a manager who is now completely engrossed in their work.

This is not how leaders are made.

The Organisation — With managers focussed on the wrong things, and team members lacking ownership and engagement and not being developed, the organisation loses out.

Organisations need team members to be developed into team leaders, and they need the managers and leaders that exist to be focussed on the strategic priorities. Organisations don’t need managers getting involved in every email that comes into their inbox, or attending every meeting that they’re invited to.

Organisations need leaders who are leading, and team members who are delivering.

What’s the answer?

The answer is for leaders to rediscover the art of stepping back, and letting things play out, without their involvement.

For leaders to say, “I’m going to let it play.”.

As with so many things, however, that is easier said than done; but there are steps that you can take to help you along the way:

  • Get rid of your cc mails — Anything that you’re not in the ‘to’ list for should not be going to your main inbox. Set up a rule that sends anything like this to a folder called “Review” that you look at once every few days.
    Something that you’ll notice when you do this is that by the time you see many of the issues, your team have already dealt with them without the need for you to get involved. Something will have happened, there will have been a discussion, and someone will have taken ownership of fixing it; all before you’ve even seen it.

    That’s called development.

    The absolute maximum you should do in that situation is reach out privately to the team member who is taking the fix, thank them, and let them know that you’re ready to help out if they need it.

  • Be OK with not knowing — You don’t need to know everything that is going on everywhere, all the time. Think of all the things happening in your organisation at this moment that you have no idea about, it’s mind-boggling. In fact, you have a team of people whose job it is to know this stuff, so let them do their job.
    Trust your people, be OK with letting them do their jobs, or they will never be able to develop in their roles, and you will never be able to step away and get on with your job.

  • Accept that the people running processes know what they’re doing — Quite often, the thing that you’re getting yourself involved in is already part of some process or other; if this is the case, you have to let it play.

    The harsh reality is, in most corporate settings; any attempt to accelerate, sidestep, or otherwise interfere with the process will only result in everything being slowed down.
    The process exists, the people running it know how to do it, they don’t want your involvement, they don’t need it; you need to let them get on with running their process.

A leader adds value by leading.

You may want to get involved in everything, you may believe that you have good reason to get involved; to make things happen, to get things unstuck, to support your team; but in reality, these aren’t the reasons that you’re getting involved.

You’ve getting involved so you can prove that you can add value, so you can prove that you’re worth your salary, so that you can show that you’re “in control” and “on top of things”.

Remember that leaders add value by leading and not doing.

You add value by setting strategic goals, and unblocking the path to delivering them; by helping your team understand their contribution to those goals and to the organisation. By coaching, mentoring, and developing your team to be better contributors and, eventually, great leaders.

This is where your focus should be.

Outside that, let others do their jobs, let it play.

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