Q&A: Why Leaders Have a Big Problem with Management

Q&A: Why Leaders Have a Big Problem with Management

By: Laurel Farrer

Q: Our recent article, How to Manage Your First Remote Team, got some leaders talking. Tamara Schenk commented, “The title is a bit misleading because ‘managing’ is not what’s actually needed. You can manage a process, but people have to be led.” We loved the controversy of this thought and discussed it at length with our team. It’s a sample of the big-picture question, “What is management, and is it harmful to a team?”

A: Managers are everywhere in the professional world: stage managers, baseball team managers, even surgery managers, but is removing them from the office part of the future of work?

There’s a trend in flat organizational structures suggesting the answer to that question is “yes,” and it’s based on the concept that supervision and control seem demeaning and constricting to a team. But we know a secret: even within these models so carefully crafted to eliminate supervisory roles, managers still exist, because a team cannot function without a leader.  

Consider this scenario. When an administrative assistant starts work on their first day, would you expect them to approve the rollout plans for next year’s products? What about proposing solutions for leaks in the sales funnel? Of course not. Because all of those tasks require more experience, more operational knowledge, and more company information than the average employee has, and that is exactly what managers provide.

The simple truth is the workflows of business run more smoothly under the supervision of a manager.

Think about all of the wonderful elements that having a manager aboard provides for a team:

  • It’s a valuable opportunity for workers who have younger careers to learn from someone with more experience in the industry.
  • Having a second pair of well-experienced eyes to collaborate with on a project is a great blockbuster.
  • There aren’t “too many cooks in the kitchen,” so decisions can be made more efficiently.
  • Being accountable to someone else can enhance efficiency, motivation, and quality of results.
  • There is someone else that is considering the big picture perspective, such as company growth and team development, so the rest of the team can be more efficient in the tactile work.
  • Meetings and operations are more efficient when only certain people in leadership are informed instead of the entire department or staff.

However, Tamara raises a good point: the term “management” has been earning a bad reputation lately, but that’s not because of what management is, it’s because of how management is being done.

We think Tamara hits the nail on the head. The difference between successful and unsuccessful management is the direction of the guidance. Is the team following the example of a leader or being pushed and constricted by a controller? Here at Yonder, we support the leading by example model, rather than veering into micromanagement territory.

So how do you lead instead of push? Here are some suggestions that can help you manage in the best possible way.

Focus on the what, not the how. Keep your eye on work that needs to be done: the operations, the projects, the tasks, and the goals. Leave the development of how it’s going to be done to your team. Let each member use their unique skills and preferences to develop their own workflow and implement their creativity autonomously.

Trust your team. If we’re starting to sound repetitive about the importance of trust, that’s intentional. Trust is absolutely key to remote collaboration. If you don’t trust your team members and they don’t trust you, short-term thinking will emerge, which leads to diminished performance and wreaks havoc on your business. However, when trust is built among team members, it leads to more creativity, higher productivity, better job satisfaction, and greater overall results.

Evaluate results, not performance. When you are providing feedback to your team, talk about what you love or don’t love about their work, be specific about adjustments that need to be made, and compare their results to their goals. Do not make the criticism personal by talking about their behavior, work style, or habits. Allow your employees to be unique individuals. If their behavior is causing problems for the other members of the team, bring it to their attention during a separate one-on-one meeting.

Allow for advancement. One of the greatest concerns about a traditional hierarchical structure is how easy it is for employees to get stuck at their level. Regardless of what structure your company adopts, avoid building “ceilings” by providing opportunities for team members to expand beyond their current role. Invite them to participate in think tanks for new project proposals or blend various departments to troubleshoot a concern.

So, Tamara, we completely agree with you. Managers should never be focused on controlling their people, when their real job is to supervise the work the people are doing and lead them in the right direction. Whether we call it “leadership,” “mentoring,” or “coaching,” successful managers of all forms are still crucial to the progress and development of a team and its results.

Have additional thoughts about management, leadership, and micromanagement? Tweet us @yonder_io to share your opinion!

Laurel Farrer is the COO here at Yonder. She always has a notebook and pen within arm's reach, never sits with both feet on the floor, and drives (safely) without depth perception.