A few months ago, a manager said something great as we discussed his influence on his team’s culture. He quipped, “I need to work on adding less value.” This could be one of the greatest aspirations for the future of management ever articulated, and the perfect slogan for reimagined management. It takes a confident leader to recognize that the natural tendency to dive in and offer an opinion, to justify their existence by “adding value” with their “leadership” actually disrupts, confuses, and derails the team, rather than helps. While managers may feel these actions and behaviors are valuable, gratifying, and serve the organizational goals, “the managed” may not see it the same way.
Less can truly be more. How many employees do you know who are asking for more management?
The hardest part of minimalism is knowing when you’re finished–whether you’re building a house, making a painting, or offering feedback to an associate. The most difficult task for a manager is to step back, trust, and refrain from helping and giving guidance to the team. Dwight D. Eisenhower got it exactly right: “Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”
What does that mean for managers today? Perhaps we should spend more time holding up mirrors and guardrails for the team, rather than directing, micro-managing, and “adding value.” Instead, managers might first try trusting their people and experimenting with increased autonomy. As employees gain confidence and traction, and those training wheels start to come off, so do the manacles of “direct supervision.” Whether those shackles take the form of process, metrics, “feedback,” or status reports, minimalist management can liberate the “supervised” and supervisor alike and unlock unheralded levels of contribution.