You’ve just been promoted to a supervisory role, and you really don’t want to be the absentee boss who inspires blogs like this one. So you make a concerted effort to be attentive and responsive–answering questions whenever your employees ask, and making yourself available whenever they need you. So much so that some days, you feel like you barely have any time to get your work done.
But it’s just part of being a manager, right? Well, yes and no.
It is important to train your direct reports on the skills they need to do their jobs well–because if they excel, that’s going to reflect well on you. However, sometimes that training involves knowing when to put off their requests. Yes, you heard right: There are times when procrastinating can actually be a powerful management strategy. Here’s when and why.
YOU TEACH YOUR EMPLOYEES TO BE RESOURCEFUL
Think of a time when you desperately needed an answer to a question, but there was no one to ask. What did you do? You probably tried to find the answer yourself–whether it’s typing questions into Google, Slacking a coworker, or searching the company’s server because you know those files are in there somewhere.
So if your direct report comes to you for help, consider procrastinating. Push the request off a few hours. If someone approaches you in the morning, tell them you’ll get back with them to help first thing in the afternoon if they haven’t figured it out by then. Similarly, punt afternoon requests to the next morning.
As a manager, putting off certain requests–at least for a little while–prevents you from becoming a one-stop-shop for your direct reports. That way, they’ll learn to search for things themselves before coming to you. Over time, many of the issues, questions, and requests they approach you with initially will begin to evaporate. Everybody wins: You get some time back, and your team members learn to solve more problems on their own.
And when they do come to you with a question, you can be confident that they’ve attempted to find the answer themselves–and you’re more likely to have a productive discussion about the issue.
YOU HELP YOUR TEAM MEMBERS BECOME BETTER LEADERS
More importantly, when you don’t leap to help with requests immediately, you’re teaching a lesson about leadership that your direct reports wouldn’t otherwise learn. Some day, some of your team members will be sitting in your position fielding the requests that you’re fielding.
By encouraging them to solve problems on their own before coming to you, you’re developing them into more efficient, high-value workers and reinforcing the fact that you have your own priorities (which they should respect). Likewise, they’ll learn that it’s perfectly acceptable to prioritize their own work as long as they help out their teammates in a timely fashion.
When you push back a request a few hours, encourage the person who’s made it to keep working and not use your delay as an excuse to put the task aside.
Of course, sometimes the person making the request has exhausted every option, and they’re coming to you because they’re at their wits’ end on how to proceed. When their words or body language tell you this, go ahead and help. It really is okay to drop everything and help every now and again–just not all the time.
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