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New Managers: Are You Having Trouble Letting Go of Old Habits

Most leaders began their careers as high functioning individual contributors.  They had their sphere of responsibilities and took pride in their ability to accomplish tasks.  They were self-starters effective at how to get work done. These qualities likely contributed to their eventual promotion into a management role.

But when they became a manager, their role shifted.  They now needed to focus on what needed to get done and leave the how to the individual contributors they managed.  As a manager, they needed to be more strategic and less tactical.

Many managers struggle with this change.  They had established numerous great methods, processes, and ideas for how to accomplish work. What are they supposed to do with these concepts now?

For a fair share of managers, the natural answer is to pass on their ways to their direct reports by staying hands-on.  It doesn’t occur to them that as a manager their role is to figure out and communicate what needs to get done, leaving the how to their direct reports as their capabilities allow and giving direction and support only as needed. Unfortunately, some managers never make this shift.

If this sounds like you, there are numerous benefits when you shift from how to what.  Leaving the how to your direct reports:

… gives them the chance to develop their skill set.

… is motivating.  Research conducted by Blanchard for our Optimal Motivation training program uncovered that employees feel motivated when they perceive that what they are doing is of their own volition and that they are the source of their own actions.

… gives you more time and space to work on the what.

What can you do to make the shift?  Lots!  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Acknowledge to yourself that the change won’t be easy. It helps if you recognise that the benefits far outweigh the uncomfortable process of change.
  • Do a little soul searching. Why do you want to keep your fingers in the pie?  Is it a lack of trust, a need to control, or a wish to add value?
  • Learn the art of partnering with direct reports to facilitate their independent problem solving. Ask your capable people a question such as “What do you need to do to get the work done?”  Then figuratively sit on your hands and listen as they figure it out.  You might need to ask a few more open-ended questions—but resist offering solutions.
  • Practice, practice, practice. This will not happen overnight.  Two steps forward, one step back—but stick to it and you will be able to make the change.

Joanne Maynard, a senior coach with the Ken Blanchard Companies loves the quote “Mediocre coaches are those who remain attached to their own opinions and feel the need to be right or even useful.”  To Maynard this applies not only to coaches but to managers, colleagues, parents, spouses, friends, etc.  Are you unnecessarily keeping your hands on the work your direct reports should be doing themselves?  If so, what are you going to do about it?

About the author:

Joanne Maynard is a senior coach with
The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.

First published on Blanchard LeaderChat
17 May 2019