Management: Stop telling people what to do!

Management: Stop telling people what to do!

1024 768 Nick Clench

Management: Stop telling people what to do!


Managing people is hard. Coupled with the fact that most people don’t receive any formal training, it’s hardly surprising. For highly skilled professionals such as lawyers or accountants it is even harder.

Professionals don’t choose their vocations in order to be managers – they choose them because they love the technical side of what they do. I work with a lot of professionals to help them build leadership and management capability and they all say the same thing: they never intended to be managers, it just kind of happened.

The temptation for new, or even some more experienced, managers is to fall into a traditional management style – command and control, giving instructions and answers, delegating only small tasks, giving information on a need-to-know basis and only giving feedback once a year when it is absolutely necessary. However, this style doesn’t work for talent – you stifle people’s creativity, initiative and ultimately their development.

What we know about people at work, is that they develop faster when they have to think and learn for themselves. It can often feel quicker and easier to simply tell people the answers, but when they work it out for themselves they learn, and can apply that learning to a multitude of other situations. I sometimes hear managers say ‘but they don’t want to learn, they don’t seem to care, they just want the answers’, well maybe because they have gotten used to it and I am not surprised they are demotivated and disengaged if that’s the environment they are working in.

People go to work to do a good job. Very few people, if any, go to work to do a bad job. This is especially true in the professions when you consider how much motivation, learning and training is required just to get to the interview stage! Once professionals are even a little way into their career, they are sufficiently capable and willing to learn and develop, so treat them as such.

People are changing too. Those lucky enough to be under the age of around 35 are known as Generation Y or ‘Millennials’. This generation born in the internet era have very different expectations to their Gen X or Baby Boomer predecessors. They expect their development to be at the top of your agenda, just as it is theirs. They seek fulfilment from their jobs rather than high salaries or status. They are impatient too, if they are not getting what they need from a job (or firm) they will happily move on in search of it.

So it’s time to manage differently. Stop telling people what to do. Instead, listen to them, understand their issues and goals, let them talk them out with you. When it comes to the time when you would normally tell them what to do, stop. Ask them what they think they should do. They will probably surprise you and already know the answer. Draw it out of them, encourage them to evaluate it, or better still to try it and review the outcome. They will learn faster this way and spend less time pestering you for answers, allowing you to get back to what you love – what you went into your vocation for in the first place. Empower people, delegate responsibility not just tasks, involve them in brainstorming and decision making, listen to their suggestions and help them learn.

Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Give it a try.


Nick Clench

Nick Clench

Nick Clench is an executive coach and Academy Director at the STAR Coaching Academy

All articles by: Nick Clench

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