For anyone managing people, being overly hands-on or overly hands-off are equally problematic. Call it our default or comfort zone, most people do exactly that -- habitually using one more often than the other.
Those who overuse a hands-on or directive approach stifle creativity, autonomy, and people’s ability to do their best work. Those who overuse a hands-off or empowering style create chaos or confusion, fuzziness about roles / responsibilities, and cause some problems to linger for longer than needed.
It’s therefore important to be able to dial up one or the other when appropriate, rather than as a matter of tendency or habit. Doing so is a strong tool for all – whether you have one person or ten reporting directly to you. It simply boils down to developing your own rules of thumb.
How to Build Your Standards
Your standards for when to take a more directive or empowering approach should depend mainly on the conditions in your enterprise. For example, a manager with a highly capable and motivated team is better off having a high bar for getting involved with the details than someone with a weaker team.
Here are the key ingredients to developing your own standards for when to be hands-on versus hands-off:
1. Level of motivation / capability of team and/or its members: higher means default to hands-off and a higher bar for hands-on leadership.
2. Level of complexity within organization: more complex reporting relationships and authority means default to more hands-on in terms of coordinating, and a lower bar for directive behavior when there are gaps / overlaps.
3. Organizational pattern of delivering results: consistently better results means defaulting to an empowering approach, or hands-off and a high bar for directive behavior.
4. For your newer people, those newer to their role: newer means a slight tilt toward a hands-on or directive style, until their footing is firm.
5. For your problem people -- those who chronically under-perform: more problematic means an increasing tilt toward a directive approach, but it’s important not to let the problem person linger in their role.
6. For your problem areas or projects: more problematic means an increasing tilt toward a directive approach, but it’s important to make other changes (people, resources, time lines) without delay.
7. In a crisis: depending on your team’s capability and motivation, a crisis may be the best time to be hands-off in terms of taking action, but hands-on with monitoring events, asking good questions, so you can see better which behaviors will maximize your people and have the highest likelihood of dealing with the situation effectively.
Having well thought-out standards will help ensure you are consistent about how you manage people and details –consistency is important for leaders.
Short of that, if your people were candid, you might hear something like this: “I don’t know why Jack’s so involved in this relatively small matter -- and he’s got my people running around in different directions. And then I wonder why he’s NOT putting his foot down on some larger issues that are not getting resolved.
Developing consistent and deliberate guidelines for when to be hands-on versus hands-off is a powerful and important tool for leaders at all levels.
Principal and Senior Executive Coach
Goodstone Group, LLC