11 Feb 2018

It’s a Responsibility Thing

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As a manager, one fact I’ve learned over and over is to support my team in ways that build up their responsibility, let them handle their own problems and determine their own solutions. My primary role as a manager was to guide the team to ensure they understood the overall goals and objectives, and to give them enough latitude and resources to get results. Sometimes this was very painful to my team, as I forced them to think, and I expected them to contribute more than their technical skills.

One of the most profound events in my career was occurred during a brief time when our company was without a CIO. Instead, we reported directly to the CEO, which at first was highly uncomfortable. The man, John Shields, was a legend among legends, highly respected and a little bit frightening given his to-the-point demeanor and no-nonsense way of getting things done.

I had been working on a proposal for some new hardware for our SAP accounting package and it was time to present it to the new boss. I had done my homework, but I had no idea what to expect. I knew what our old boss would have done; he would have taken it over himself, done the work to get it approved, and taken much (but not all) of the credit for the idea as well.

That wasn’t John’s style. When I presented the project to him he quickly looked through my proposal. He didn’t make comments about format or ask questions about the small things. Instead, he asked a few pointed questions, asked the price tag, leaned back in his chair, looked me in the eye, and asked me if this was what we needed to do. I started to go into how to finance the project, and John said, “My job is finance, your job is technical. Is this what we need to do?” I said yes, and the project was approved that quickly.

A short time later I felt I needed to hire another team member, I presented my arguments to John, and he asked me, as he always did, if this was what we needed to do. I said “I think so.” John smiled and told me “come back to me when you know.” Now that made me think…

The most productive, fulfilling time of my career was the brief year that I worked for that man. He was concerned with making me comfortable being part of his team, and allowing me to do my job in a responsible manner. He didn’t care in the least about taking any credit for the ideas or the projects, nor did he have any preconceived ideas on what was best on a technical level. He simply wanted solutions that fulfilled the goals of the company.

Other bosses didn’t work like John. You see, John explained the goals, then allowed his team to decide how to meet those goals and solve the problems. He seemed to take delight in getting others to take responsibility, step up to the plate, and come up with their own solutions. In other words, John treated his team as responsible adults, and he expected them to act like it.

Most other managers pull responsibility towards themselves, all the while claiming they want their team to be responsible. They seem to want to not just make the decisions, but to control the process of making decisions, and to manage (if not micromanage) the entire process. The problem is the team stops being responsible, in greater or lessor degree, which reduces their abilities and their power to get things done.

Personally, I believe it is far better to manage a team who can not just resolve problems on their own, but who can think for themselves and take responsibility not just for their own area, but for the whole team, department or company.

John Shields passed away on October 31st, 2014. Rest in Peace.


Richard Lowe Jr

Richard Lowe Jr

Owner & Senior Writer, Copywriter, Ghostwriter, WordPress Implementation at The Writing King
Richard is the Owner and Senior Writer for The Writing King, a bestselling author, and ghostwriter. He's written and published 63 books, ghostwritten 20+ books, as well as hundreds of blog articles.
Richard Lowe Jr


Author of Focus on LinkedIn, Safe Computing, Surviving Disasters, Help! My Boss is Whacko!, Insider Secrets from a Professional Ghostwriter and many others
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Richard Lowe Jr
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