In my role as a lawyer, MBA, Teaching Assistant and Doctoral Candidate I normally manage a number of students and coach them so that they cana build their own arguments and develop their legal writing skills. I am constantly there to provide feedback and ideas if required while mostly staying out of their way so that the students can maximize their learning.
From day one I emphasized how available I was for them. I tried to be responsive and replied to every e-mail as promptly as I could. Whenever they called, I usually took a few minutes and made sure I answered their questions. The fact that what they were doing was so new and different from everything they had done before played on my mind a lot. In the first few months of the project, I was struggling with ways on how I could make them use me more. I was certain that my students had many questions and issues and wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable to get in touch with me whenever they had a problem.
However recently I learned the other side of this balance. I was preoccupied and was not able to answer a call from one of the students. When I returned to her a few hours later to ask if I can help, she said: â€œNo, it is OK, I had a problem, but I found my own solutionâ€.
It suddenly dawned on me. Sometimes, it is important not to be too available, on purpose.
In a Knowledge@Wharton article titled â€œThe Problem with Financial Incentives â€” and What to Do About Itâ€, Adam Grant and Jitendra Singh, professors of Management at the Wharton School of Business discuss the importance of autonomy:
For example, in a study at a printing company, Michigan Stateâ€™s Fred Morgeson and colleagues found that when teams lacked clear feedback and information systems, giving them autonomy led them to expend more effort, use more skills and spend more time solving problems. Numerous other studies have shown that allowing employees to exercise choices about goals, tasks, work schedules and work methods can increase their motivation and performance.
This was another lesson on the importance of balance in the everyday life of any manager working with people. Yes, you should have peopleâ€™s back and make sure they have the knowledge and resources they need to do their work. At the same time, you need to know when to get out of the way on purpose.
What type of a manager are you? Do you enrich your employees by allowing them to make their own decisions or are you always too available?