When your team don't want to let go of you

BeanStalk Learning

What education teaches us, specifically schools, is that we always need to know the answer when asked a question, those in positions of authority don't have to follow the same rules as the students, good memory recall gets you good grades, we must conform, not think for ourselves, and ask permission to do anything.

Okay, maybe this is an over-generalisation, but most schools and education do not provide us with the skills we need to take us into the workplace. How education is set-up hasn't changed much since the 19th century when the first Education Act was passed in 1870. Back then, the workplace was completely different and everything I mentioned above was reflected in how work happened. But this is not the case today - we work in a very different world.

Back in the mid 1990s when I was cutting my teeth as a people manager, I promoted a very capable, bright, and determined young woman to be my deputy manager. Despite her obvious capability, she would not decide without getting my approval first. This meant she rang me a lot whenever I took time off.

Coaching wasn't as prevalent back then as it is today, but I did my best to encourage her to make, and standby, her decisions when I wasn't around (and when I was). She was terrified of making a mistake or making the wrong decision and the consequences that might bring.

It all came to a head when after the sixth phone call of the day when I was taking some time off, I very bluntly told her to not call me again and we would talk about anything that happened the next day...not my best manager moment!

Unsurprisingly, however, there were no disasters to discuss.

We had a conversation about her need to check everything out despite her being in the best position to make the call. She wasn't long out of education and her fear of getting things wrong was a hangover from her days at school. So, we made a plan, her confidence grew, and she left me eventually to become a manager in her own right. Very proud manager moment!

What I learnt was that while we might be willing to handover control and empower our teams, they may not be ready themselves to let go of your approval. We have to follow some rules to break those habits from the past:

  1. Have a conversation
  2. Standby decisions made in public and discuss in private
  3. Have a conversation
  4. Create an environment where mistakes can be made and learned from
  5. Have a conversation