Managers’ common errors: trying to be everything

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I have recently met with a team whose manager was trying to be their Product Owner, their Scrum Master (the SM originally assigned to their group kind of slipped out unnoticed a couple of months earlier), their technical leader – and at the same time think of their department future, lobby for the product they were making (an internal system and associated framework) and overall provide political cover. One of our trainers was leading a retrospective and as I was listening in the team told that manager a couple of times: let us decide, let us do things, let us fail even. What was amazing was how those statements bounced off him – it was like if they were speaking Mandarin, the guy just didn’t notice.
This is a pattern that I see often: a manager that is trying to be everything for “his” team, play all the roles at least a little bit – and in the end fails to do any of them well. I think drivers of this behavior can be different in each case (for example this guy is not a power freak, but rather is intellectually drawn to everything: to him all is interesting and worth exploring, knowing, so he tries to get at least a bite of everything), but the net result is always the same – employees’ creativity is stifled, after a couple of tries their own initiative is gone and healthy self organization has no chance of occurring.

This is, of course, nothing new: delegation was always a challenge faced by leaders. However, the “traditional” delegation was the delegation of tasks – what we call for now is delegation of power, delegation of problems to solve. Even more challenging – so even more managers fail to do it right.

Key takeaway: if you are a leader don’t try to be everything, focus on what value you can provide (most likely strategic decisions or providing a compelling vision or coaching) and don’t get in the way of the team.

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