It turns out that if you’re okay at being responsible for people and things, you eventually get made responsible for more people and things.
The real ramifications of that morequalifier are that are that you might very well end up with less time to engage in the activities that contributed towards your success in the first place.
I know its trite, but there might actually be a grain of truth in the old Peter Principle. If you keep getting promoted until you are in a position where you can no longer reliably engage in the activities that led to your success in the first place, its probably going to manifest as incompetence.
I’m sure you can guess why I’m mentioning this…
Alone I Break
Historically, I’m used to being able to absorb a information from multiple sources and retain it. I have something of a reputation for remembering a wide variety of things in a work context, and even outside work my head is filled with far more useless information than I really care to think about (there’s a lot of Warhammer lore in there for example, praise Sigmar).
The problem is, as I get involved in more things, I’m finding it more and more difficult to keep up with everything all at once.
Perhaps I’m getting old, and my brain is not as good as it used to be (very possible), but I think I’m just running up against the real limitations of my memory for the first time. Prior to this, I could always just focus down on one or two things at most, even though there was a lot of technical complexity in play.
The degradation was gradual.
The first thing to go was my ability to understand all the technical details about what was going on in all of the teams I was working with. That was a hard one to let go of, but at the end of the day I could still provide useful guidance and direction (where necessary) by lifting my focus and thinking about concepts at a higher level, ignoring the intricacies of implementation. Realistically, without the constantly tested and tuned technical skills acquired from actually implementing things, I wasn’t really in a position to help anyway, so its for the best.
The second thing that started to go though was the one-on-one interactions, and I can’t let that fly. I’ve been in situations before where I wasn’t getting clear and regular feedback from the people who were responsible for me, and I did not want to do the same thing to those I was responsible for. Being unable to stay on top of that really reinforced that I had to start doing something that I am utterly terrible at.
All In The Family
Its not that I’m not okay with delegating, I’m just bad at it.
There are elements of ego there (i.e. the classic “If I don’t do it, it won’t be done right!”), but I also just plain don’t like having to dump work on people. It doesn’t feel right.
But the reality is that I won’t always be around, and I can’t always pay the amount of attention to everything that I would like to, so I might as well start getting people to do things and make sure that I can provide the necessary guidance to help them along the path that I believe leads to good results.
The positive side of this is that it gives plenty of new opportunities for people to step up into leadership roles, and I get to be in the perfect position to mentor those people in the way that I believe that things should be done. Obviously this represents a significant risk to the business, if they don’t want things to continue to be done in the way that I do them, but they gave up the ability to prevent that when they put me into a leadership position.
With additional leaders in place, each being responsible for their own small groups of people, my role mutates into one of providing direction and guidance (and maybe some oversight), which is a bit of a change for someone that is used to being involved in things at a relatively low level.
And letting go is hard.
Got The Life
I’ve written before about how I’m pretty consistently terrified about micromanaging the people I’m responsible for and destroying their will to live, but I think now that being aware of that and being appropriately terrified probably prevents me from falling too far into that hole. That doesn’t mean I don’t step into the hole from time to time, but I seem to have avoided falling face first so far.
Being cognitively aware of things is often a good way to counter those things after all. Its hard to be insane when you realise that you’re insane.
So letting go is actually in my best interest, even if the end result of a situation is not necessarily what I originally envisioned. At the end of the day, if the objectives were accomplished in a sustainable fashion, it probably doesn’t really matter anyway. I’m still free to provide guidance, and if the teams involved take it as that (guidance), rather than as unbreakable commands, then I’m probably okay.
A healthy lack of involvement can also break negative patterns of reliance as well, making teams more autonomous. Within reason of course, as a lack of direction (and measurable outcomes) can be incredibly and rightly frustrating.
Its a delicate balancing act.
Be involved just enough to foster independent though and problem-solving, but no more than that so as to avoid creating stifling presence.
This is another one of those wishy-washy touchy-feely posts where I rant about things that I don’t really understand.
I’m trying though, and the more I think (and write) about the situation the better I can reason about it all.
The real kicker here is the realization that I can’t do everything all at once, especially as my area of responsibility widens.
The situation does offer new and interesting opportunities though, and helping people to grow is definitely one of the better ones.