Letting Go

Posted by jlubans on September 13, 2016


It’s always been an issue for me. No, not letting go; that’s my natural inclination. Rather, it’s about achieving desired results by letting go. While I believe in the concept, I have failed at times to consider what those “let go” think or want.
I let go - expanding a team’s leader’s authority and responsibility - because I expect that the department/team would be more responsible and would do better work without having to check with me on everything. By taking my foot off the “brakes” - the solid lines and boxes of the org chart - I expected prolonged bursts of energy and innovation.
Early on, I discovered that not everyone was comfortable with the dotted line that replaced the solid reporting line; and, some were largely clueless, even resistant, to the idea of self-management. We further complicated things by moving toward the notion of self-managing teams.
Nor was it clear to some what my role would be once I let go. Honestly, it was not all that clear to me!
I could have been far more explicit about what my role was or what I expected my role to be, somewhere between hands on/hands off or micro/macro managing.
I should have explained: “Here is what I need when I meet with you. I do not need to shoot the breeze with you (if that is all we are going to do when we meet); give me something we can both work on. Don’t leave me guessing; don’t leave me out of the decision-making aspect or the innovating aspect.”
Of course, for that to happen, you have to have an organization that recruits and supports innovators, decisive workers, dreamers, and not mostly journeymen; the more traditional an organization the more journeymen; the more mantras of “It’s a job”.
No doubt any clarification on my part would have helped those who did not intuit my role. In hindsight, letting go meant for me to be the group’s coach, a close adviser, a giver of objective advice and, importantly, a finder of funding and defender of the group’s efforts.
Letting go worked in some cases, it limped along in others and, for some it was DOA. The former were a special breed of manager. I’d term them “star followers”; doers, critical thinkers, with a personal vision not much different from mine.
For them, freedom was an opportunity to push for change and bring it about rapidly, not to have to wait for approval from me or from a strategic plan committee. I met with each of the managers in this elite group several times a week to go over their ideas – and mine on occasion – and for me to listen and to make suggestions.
A WSJ headline had me reflecting about the letting go process: “College Football’s New Coaching Strategy: Coaching.
The story is about head coaches at football programs with 100 player platoons, a dozen assistant coaches and a squad of trainers, nutritionists, and therapists, and dozens of administrative staff. And, with the pressures of satisfying the fan base, the media, and of recruiting dozens of new players each year, and managing the entire business end of the football program. The result is that many head coaches feel like they are no longer coaches. “With an offensive coordinator responsible for calling plays on offense and the defensive coordinator doing the same on defense, many head coaches say they find themselves with little to do after kickoff other than call timeouts. Mostly, they spend three-and –a-half hours stomping up and down the sidelines and yelling at people.” I could relate to that.
The article claims that more than a few head coaches are resurrecting their primary reason for being on the field: coaching. Some will either coach special teams, call plays, or otherwise take a more active, hands-on role in the their team’s performance. A bit of micromanaging, in other words. I can identify with what they’re trying to do, but I think it is misguided.
I suppose they miss what a former teacher, now a superintendent of schools, longs for. Or, a physician promoted to CEO of a hospital and waxes nostalgic about seeing patients.
Perhaps looking at the other side of letting go – where the workers, and middle managers sit - might help define the new role. How do we develop their skills and give permission to self-manage? What is our role in that happening?
Start with a frank discussion about new roles and what’s missing. Is the only solution a micromanaging one? Or is it best for the head coach to define his or her new role - like I should have done – and to create a structure in which the head coach brings insights from his/her experience and helps the coaching staff improve. I’d have the head coach elicit ideas, and seek to improve the team every week with a sit down (led by the head coach) on what went well, what did not and what to do next time. Truth-seeking. This would be a venue for constructive feedback, never blaming. That’s the beginning of the new role.
My story on the Cēsis New School shows how children learn to self-manage; it is not an easy intuitive task, self-management has to be learned because we live in a hierarchical world. There may be some clues for all of us in observing the changing teachers’ role in helping students self-manage, to help them take full responsibility for a project. The video I link to in that story is worth studying to see what roles there are for this different kind of teacher and by extension for this different kind of manager/leader/coach. A democratic leadership can only thrive when all participants share responsibility.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

« Prev itemNext item »


No comments yet. You can be the first!

Leave comment