Lia's Blog

Calling all managers - how to empower more and work less

Sep 20, 2022
Photo of Lia with the caption

Managers are being stretched and squeezed. I mean I’m all for pilates, but I didn’t sign up for this. 

2020 was the year of the manager. And if by “year of the manager” I mean managers having to pull and stretch in new directions, being thrown into the deep end navigating work from home, masking, safety concerns, distributed teams, the great resignation, racial injustices, and their own fears about the pandemic, then yeah, it was their year. 

And now, as companies are cutting back and asking people to “do more with less” we’re cruising into 2023 with managers seeing no light at the end of the overstretched and overworked tunnel. 

As a person who went from “I love being a manager!” to “no way, never again” all in the span of a year, I’ll tell you right now: your managers are all at risk. Even if they're not planning on leaving, they're at risk of burning out, feeling overwhelmed, and losing motivation. 

Essentially, managers need to do LESS. 

How do we do less while still ensuring everything gets done? Here are three strategies managers can deploy TODAY to empower their teams to step up as owners, leaving less on their own plates. 

It’s the ultimate win/win. Read on ;) 

(1) Reframe accountability into ownership

I’ve shared this strategy before because it’s the ultimate tool for managers and relieves the pressure of feeling like you are responsible for everything. As a manager, you are responsible for the outcomes of your teams at the macro level. Your team members are responsible for getting their work done at their individual level. When they feel like you also see yourself as responsible for every little detail, they either stop stepping up, or leave a team, ultimately leaving you (the manager) with infinitely more work than you needed or wanted to take on. 

Instead, empower your teams to step up as owners. We do this by asking them how they would solve a problem and listening to their process and approach. We push decision making down, ensuring they feel a sense of autonomy over the areas they can be responsible for. 

We set expectations around what success looks like, and then let them own the details around how the work gets done. In our 1:1s, we discuss progress and how to unblock them, but do not grab the reins the moment something goes wrong.

(2) Delegate, but actually let go

With a team full of owners, ready to step up and take responsibility when something reaches their purview, it’s time to delegate. More. Like whatever you were already doing, step it up by 25%. More often than not, if a manager is reaching the point of burnout, they have their fingers in way more pies than they need to. They just haven’t taken a thoughtful or intentional look at how to delegate some of their work. 

Step 1 to delegating, don’t just hand off the bottom of the barrel work no one would want to do. Team members see right through that and they don’t like being told “I have this AWESOME AMAZING task for you to take on,” only to find it involves manually inputting a handwritten rolodex into a Google Sheet.

When we delegate to empower and inspire our teams, we’re offloading things that they are either interested in or help advance their careers. Things like running an important meeting with a stakeholder, allowing them to get more visibility into their work. Or managing the summer intern, laying a foundation of skills as a people manager. This is the kind of work that we should be delegating; and when it’s meaty, it takes way more work off a manager’s plate than the data entry. 

Make a list of your team members and their top 3 skills/superpowers and 3 areas they're interested in developing. Then make a list of the  work that you're doing that could potentially be delegated, and where possible match people to a task that leverages their superpower or helps them develop in a new area.

(3) Ask open ended questions 

Dealing with “unsticking” our team members is another place managers spend a lot of their time. And you know what takes up the MOST time of all? Solving problems for our team members. Oh I know it’s tempting to shove them aside, grab the laptop, and start typing when they come to you with a problem that you perceive as so easy and obvious to solve. But I will tell you, nine times out of ten, if we offer up solutions that our teams aren’t ready to hear or feel bought into, they’re not going to do it our way anyway. They might nod along and say "yep, got it," but I'm telling you, the moment your meeting is over, the follow up isn't happening.

How do we help get our teams unstuck? 

Besides handing them a copy of my book ;) we get our teams unstuck by asking them open-ended questions when they come to us with a problem. 

Team Member: “Help! Our project is going to be delayed because the scope changed and now we can’t get everything done in time with the same amount of resources.”

Manager Option 1: “Let me take over and solve this for you.”

Manager Option 2: “Here’s how I would solve this, do it this way…”

Manager Option 3: What do you want to try to mitigate this risk?”

This isn’t a quiz, the answer in most cases is 3! I say "most cases" because of course there are situations where we need to grab the reins, but I assure you it’s significantly less than we’re likely doing at the moment.

Each of these strategies help us let go so our teams can step up. As a result, our teams feel empowered as owners with meaningful responsibilities and see that we trust them as managers. Not everyone is going to solve problems the exact same way as you would, and that’s a GOOD thing. 

Offer support, onboarding, training, and guidance where needed and set clear expectations, then let those butterflies fly. 

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For hands-on support with training and development for your people managers, or if you’re looking for support as a people manager yourself, let’s connect!

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