Select Page

The beauty of working a job — of working in someone else’s employ — comes in not needing to care so much.

self importance

Not anyone I know. This happened before the iPhone


I once had a team member who had come from a position of some authority in his prior job. Things hadn’t worked out and he had been cut loose. His one complaint to me about his former job — in response to my standard “what didn’t you like about it” question — was that he had been totally responsible for results in his area and thus never got a break to be at leisure with his family.

I understood that perfectly. Job demands can sneak up on us. But then, we’re usually at least partially to blame. At first it’s exciting — this feeling of being the big wheel — of making things happen. It’s only later that we realize that the big wheel never gets a break, and if the big wheel slows down at all, everyone screams. Being the big wheel means you take all the blame.

“I just don’t want to be on the beach with my family still taking pages and cell calls from work,” he said. I nodded in affirmation. I had a plan.

So we hired him and . . .  he really didn’t work out.  He couldn’t let go. I hadn’t anticipated that he was that attached to the feeling of personal importance he derived from being in a “critical” position at work.

He had an unresolved conflict: He didn’t realize that if you don’t want to be “on” 24/7, you must surrender your self-importance. You need to put all your energy into making sure other people can cover for you while you are on the beach. You do this so you can leave work and the enterprise can continue apace anyway.

The team I was managing had a terrific culture based on that one insight: Put the people with the greatest knowledge in positions where it was demanded that they share with those who would cover for them if they left, while freeing them up to expand their knowledge and improve that which we were tasked with supporting. Rate them on how well they associated with and trained those around them.

I still think that’s a great way to run an operational team.

But that’s the challenge (the real challenge) of management: Making sure that work gets reduced to repeatable processes and having only enough people around to service the process and cover for contingencies, all while convincing the individuals that their efforts are important on a personal level.

There’s a sleight-of-hand involved.

photo credit: aye_shamus via photopin cc