Do Tell Them How To Do The Job, Just Let Them Get The Job Done


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A lesson you learn pretty quickly in the military is that when the people who are supposed to take care of you take care of you, you focus on the results achieved and not the method used, because sometime you really don’t want to know.

I picked that up as a young Air Force officer, and was blessed to have dedicated staff of enlisted airmen and civilians that knew how to get things done and how to keep me out of trouble. I just had to give them the outcome preferred, a list of resources I knew I had available, and a timeline I wanted to pursue. Then, I could just sit back and let the experts at their jobs do their jobs the best way they knew how. I was really blessed early on to have teams that rarely failed, noting that that they actually overachieved about 85 of the time.

When I took me first position that allowed me to really take point on projects, I got a reinforcement of the basic tenants of ‘I got it done, but don’t ask me how.’ I now had a general presenting me his plans that he wanted executed, along and the desired outcome. His staff, knowing the general, stressed the importance of following his plans. Twice I follow the general’s plans for a project given to me, and presented the results that were well below the expected level of results. The first time the plan was blown off, but the second time, the general asked me why I would follow such a stupid plan in the first place. As tactfully as possible, I let the general know that I was given the rough parameters that I had to follow, although I really wanted to say he had given me the stupid idea that I knew wasn’t going to work, but was told has to be followed anyway.

From that point on, I stopped listening to ‘orders’ and starting listening for ‘outcome.’ Whenever that general offered up a plan, I ignored the plan completely, but I made sure that what the general said he wanted and what the troops in the field were expecting were one in the same, and deliverd that. I would put a plan into play that was solid, and ensured that I had over performed on the task when it was time to present. And I always gave the general credit for ‘his director in the formation of our plan of attack.’

I was able to impress myself with the ability make things happen when left to my own devices, and learned quickly to respect the output you can receive from subordinates when you give them a mission and then just let them achieve it with constantly meddling.

Since leaving the military, I have worked for several different managers, some good and bad. I am constantly amazed by managers who push a personal agenda that from the outside looks like a losing campaign. Their insistence on having high achievers do it ‘their way’ quickly becomes a problem, and the projects and tasks almost always come up as failures. And if the manager is spiteful, they’ll usually destroy the moral of the high achiever for failing to live up to some loftfull standard, even thought that standard is wholly unachievable, and should be blatantly obvious to most. If the manager is just foolish, the high achiever will usually ignore that person until they are replaced, or just leave the company to suffer their own fate without him.

If you’re a manager, do yourself a favor. Give your veterans and high achievers their assignments and then back away and let them do amazing work for you. Give your rookies a little guidance and instruction on a way to get their work done that works, but assure them if they find a better process, give it a try.

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