CXO

Should managers pitch in or just manage the action?

If you've read some of my other blog entries, you know that I often refer to a company I used to work at. I came to that company at a fairly young age and spent the bulk of my formative career years there so I often use it to illustrate points I make. Also, it would be ever so awkward if I spoke about my current place of employment. So in the spirit of editorial freedom, and personal protection, I will continue to refer to my old company when I want to use specific workplace examples.

At one point in my tenure at that company, its executives decided to take a different approach to management. We managers were told that we should no longer do any of the day-to-day work that our staffs were doing. Now, part of me understands this. I'm all for recognizing "managing" as a separate and important skill set and for allowing managers to devote time to those skills. And I know how important it is for group managers to be able to strategize about the business and guide those who report to them into achieving those strategic goals.

But I didn't think the issue was that black and white. I just couldn't quite bring myself to watch my team members struggle with a big project when I could easily pitch in to help for an hour or two. This was especially true during hiring freezes. It's what I would want a manager of mine to do. If I were drowning, I wouldn't need someone standing nearby yelling, "Swim faster!" I'd much rather that someone toss me a life preserver.

Another reason was that I liked to keep my hand somewhat in my team's day-to-day work was so I could stay aware of any production issues they were facing. I was able to develop some pretty important efficiencies because I had a first-hand knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the what made my team run.

Some of my co-managers were all too happy to adopt this new stance, but for the wrong reasons. They figured that the further away their hands were from the dirty work of the "common folk," the more important they were. That was nauseating to me and not at all what management is about. The best were those who participated at the strategic table and then were able to translate the strategy into practical implementations for the team.

I've heard people talk about leadership in terms of great coaches. For example, Vince Lombardi never popped in to block for Bart Starr, and during his tenure the Packers had winning season after winning season. But real-world employment is a little more complex than scoring yardage (and most corporate employees aren't paid like athletes). I guess it's like everything else—there is a happy medium somewhere. What has been your experience?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox