Dave Conrad: Learn to let go of your team's work

Dear Dave: I just started my first management job. I am excited to do well and achieve success. My problem is that I tend to want to do my employees' work and I just can't let go of my role as a worker. I know I need to step back and manage, and not assume anyone's role. What do you recommend that I should do? — R

Dear R: It is tough for new managers to let go of the roles and duties they had as a non-management employee, and to set the right boundaries in their new job. As a manager, you are now expected to be a leader, too, and leadership involves motivating and trusting your staff to produce results. The best leaders know when to exercise control and when to relinquish it.

Accordingly, managers have to coach, mentor, and develop their staff to achieve excellence in their jobs – they need to let go of their old roles as one person doing one job. Also, when you do your team members' work for them, they don't grow and learn anything. They will become dependent on you to do their jobs and this is a dangerous situation when trying to get all team members motivated, being responsible, and owning their work.

Why managers don't empower their employees?

Too often, managers may not realize that they have assembled, or inherited, a team of talented employees, who can and will get busy and perform their duties. Managers can then get so caught up in still performing the tasks they used to do and not realize it is someone else's responsibility to do them. They have not learned to let go.


Add to this the fact that, some managers may find comfort and security in performing their old responsibilities and not realize they are actually avoiding the new leadership expectations they should be performing. The transition is hard for them and they resort back to what is most familiar to them – their old roles.

I also think some managers are fearful their employees will make costly mistakes, so these managers are unwilling and afraid to take the risk. They don't want to suffer the consequences of a poorly executed decision or a functional error, even if it is a valuable learning experience for the employee and for them.

Finally, some managers fear their employees may make decisions and perform truly exceptional work that may make them look smarter than them. These types of managers don't want to develop truly talented people within their department and will hold them back, because of a jealousy of sorts

Let it go

It is best for you to delegate work and empower your staff. Delegating work means giving the right work to the right people. Empowerment means allowing and trusting them to get busy and do their work. These are good management practices, but they won't work if managers feel threatened by a loss of authority.

Managers succeed when employees have the tools, training, and authority to do their best work. However, empowerment can fail if the organization's leadership structure prevents managers from letting go. Conversely, organizational cultures that support empowerment also encourage managers to be catalysts, facilitators, coaches, and developers of others, rather than merely dictatorial task masters.

If you hired – and have chosen to retain – the best workers possible, it is right and necessary to allow them to work, so you can perform other management duties that provide growth for you and your team. In short, if you are a "helicopter manager" and hover over and smother your employees, they will not only resent it, but they will become dependent on you to always step in and save the day.

There are times to assist, but there are more times to just let your employees do their jobs. When you show employees you trust their knowledge and skills – and reward them for their effectively using them — you develop effective workers that allow you to focus your efforts on other pressing matters.

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