Every Manager’s Objective Should Be To Render Themselves Useless
Managing is coaching.
Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and 34th President of the United States, once gave an unusual definition of leadership: “The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
This definition highlights an unavoidable reality of being a manager: Unless they manage by fear and command-and-control, managers can’t control all the activities of all their employees. This is why they have to make them want to, as Eisenhower points out, do what they need them to do.
This principle implies that managers must deal with their own absence: They can’t be constantly with each of their employees to maintain their motivation. They must find ways to foster this state of mind by the purpose they give to their employees’ jobs, the empathy they demonstrate towards them, and the working environment they create for their benefit.
Furthermore, managers must bring their subordinates to make the right decisions by themselves. In fact, bad managers require, explicitly or implicitly, that all decisions be made by them and grant no autonomy to their employees. As a result, the efficiency, innovation ability and well-being of their teams are strongly diminished. On the contrary, the best managers teach their company’s corporate values, strategic choices and operational levers to their employees and, very importantly, regularly provide them with updated contextual information so that they can make most decisions by themselves.
Therefore, from motivation to decision-making, managers should always aim to render themselves useless, i.e. to give their employees the desire and means to accomplish their mission. This objective must be an unattainable horizon rather than an imminent target.
Indeed, managers will always have to provide purpose to their employees, set priorities for them, and make major decisions. This is why I am not a proponent of holacracy, the fashionable concept that promotes completely flat organizations. I consider that this approach is dangerous for both the success of the companies concerned and their employees’ well-being.
Fundamentally, managers are educators. Their knowledge transmission ability enables their employees to grow individually and collectively. This is all the more important given that, in a world upended by the digital revolution, companies that stagnate are going to be left behind.