What most surprised you during your research? McGregor: That hands-off leadership doesn’t work. That’s the type of leader I used to be. I knew enough not to use toxic behaviors, like yelling and using punishments. I thought that people wanted lots of autonomy, which meant that I only needed to be there when they needed help. But that doesn’t create a very motivated team because you’re not actually helping people play—find new ideas, experiment, learn, develop and grow. And you’re not helping them see the impact of their work. So you can actually be a more proactive manager—but not a micromanager …. Is Your Office Culture Toxic? McKinsey Pros Dish On What To Do, www.Forbes.com, October 22, 2015.
Yup. I always seemed to work best when I had the least input from my manager. However, that was usually because my managers were not very effective. I generally treated people like I wanted to be treated, but my context — not having the greatest managers early in my career — meant I was going too far the wrong way.
I was always surprised when my teams went off the tracks where before they had been going great. In almost all cases I went way too hands-off. I thought that was the best. Getting to that point — hands-off — should be the ultimate management achievement. It wasn’t, at least not for me.
As McGregor mentions, we have to stay engaged. It might be a light touch. It might be simple coaching and suggestions. Often it is simply showing people that you, the boss or the project manager, are actively interested in what they are doing. I recall studying the surprising insight of the Hawthorne Effect. Simply paying attention not only makes a difference, but it makes the essential difference. We have to pay attention to get the results we want — assuming we want top performance and stellar success.
For more on paying attention see The Ultimate Project Management Tool
How is your balance between hands-on and hands-off leadership?