Excellent Management – How much should I tell people?

A common problem for managers is how much to direct people what to do and how much to leave it to them. Too little direction and at the least you may have to answer lots of questions. At the worst, you may have to spend a lot of effort on crisis management and a demoralized member of staff.

In a course recently, a junior manager asked how he could prevent people he was supervising coming back to him with lots of questions about the work he had asked them to do. He realised he probably needed to brief them in more detail, but how could he know how much was enough? I suggested that he brief them in two stages. First, provide a short brief about the task and the required outcome and ask them to go away, make a start and come up with questions. Second, meet again and ask for their questions. You cannot know what the other person does or doesn’t know, and the question they come up with may be something you haven’t thought of. Albert Einstein said his mother asked him each day when he came home from school, “Did you ask a good question today?”

Too much direction may prevent your member of staff from developing and using their own initiative and dampen their enthusiasm. Measures of engagement and job-satisfaction always include people wanting to have the ability to have some control over how they do a job.

In a recent discussion about a team event with the team manager, she told me that she had had to use a “commanding”* management style for the first few months working with her team because of the need to get some standardized procedures in place. She now wanted to get members of the team to take initiative and produce new ideas, and was finding it hard work. I suggested that developing her coaching style of management could encourage staff to trust that she wanted them to develop and put forward their own ideas.

Managers’ behaviour creates expectations in the minds of their staff. Managers can create an expectation of initiative and responsibility by the way they communicate with their staff.

* one of the styles described in The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman

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