Controlling your own destiny is something that many of us strive for. We like to be in control; especially of things that directly affect us. We like the occasional surprise, but only those that are positive. No one that I know likes to be surprised with negative news. While the level of control we need to feel in order to be secure varies greatly, we still need to feel some amount of control over our lives.
The desire to be in control starts at an early age. Somewhere between the age of two and three all of my children started testing the limits of the independence. They wanted to start dressing themselves or would sometimes walk beside me without holding my hand. They also start playing alone and become comfortable with Mandy or me simply checking in on them from time to time. As parents we encourage this behavior and not just because it gives us a momentary break from our child-rearing responsibilities. We encourage it because we want our children to grown as individual; to become self-dependent.
The process of becoming self-sustaining lasts well in to adulthood and even transfers in to our professional lives. Most of us will begin our careers as individual contributors that have a job to do but are not responsibility for the work of other employees. Over time, hopefully, we enjoy some level of success and begin to be promoted to the point where, one day, we are charged with managing a team of individual contributors. When this happensâ€”whether we like it or notâ€”our self-dependence begins to disappear.
All new managers struggle with the idea of letting go. It is uncomfortable, especially if we inherited an existing team instead of getting to pick our own teammates. We have to learn to trust those that work with us (which is quite a bit different than working for us) to do their portion of the work that will make the team successful. We have to let go and settle for coaching and guiding rather than doing the work ourselves. One way that I had to personally developed this skill was when I was asked to manage a team that did work I had no idea to do myself.
My first staff meeting with this team (which numbered about 15 when I inherited themâ€”3 managers and 12 analystsâ€”and grew to 20 by the time I moved in to a new position) was a humbling experience. This team had deep technical knowledge and experience that I simply did not have and I now had to serve as their leader. How did I do it? I asked a lot of questions and then listened intently to their answers. I also recognized that I was being given the freedom to be a full-time manager leading projects, clearing hurdles, solving problems, and developing team members without the burden of needing to individually contribute to the work.
What I brought to the table was a clear vision of where the team needed to go and the skillset and relationships to make that vision a reality. I was able to lead and that team did (and continues to do) remarkable work in service of the goals of the larger organization. That freedom a wonderful gift, even if it meant putting a good deal of my future in the hands of others. I had to let go and trust my team.