This crisis and upheaval has demanded a lot of managers. But those hero managers who jumped in headfirst, kept their teams afloat, and made sure nothing was dropped, are now burning out. Turns out, even heroes need a break. Instead, conductor managers and their teams are thriving. Here’s how to make the change.
In challenging and tumultuous times like these, we’re expected to rise to the occasion and be the leader our teams need. Trouble is, far too many managers interpret that to mean they need to be everything to everyone.
They try to keep their team happy. Their days are stacked with 1:1s, they are empathetic to their team’s fluctuating needs, and accept when performance slides. Yet, they’ll be the first to pick up their team’s slack to keep leadership satisfied, give the appearance that their team is thriving, and ensure all deliverables are met.
During the early stages of the crisis, many could keep all these balls in the air. They worked long hours fueled by adrenaline and didn’t let up. But few can sustain this elevated steady state. Adrenaline sputters, burnout creeps in and effectiveness dwindles. Some become disappointed their team isn’t stepping up or learning, while others simply see themselves as failing as leaders.
Does this sound familiar?
If you think you may have fallen into the hero manager trap, I get it. Your intentions are noble and good. But here’s the thing: you’re only one person. And when you play that hero role, you’re inadvertently inflating the importance of your role while diminishing that of your team. As you keep compensating for your team by taking on more decision making and execution, you reinforce a cycle in which you take on more and more, while your team learns and contributes less and less.
In recent months, I’ve seen far too many hero managers fizzle and burnout. In contrast, the ones who are thriving half a year into the pandemic have taken a very different approach.
Rather than being the nexus of their team’s success, they instead act as conductors. They outline clear priorities, goals and roles. They help their team members access the resources they need and they connect them to others who can help them be successful.
If that sounds vague, think of it as moving from a hub and spoke model to a networked team.
In practical terms, here’s how you can make the switch from hero to conductor:
So go on, let the glory (and burden) of being a hero go.
To go from hero to conductor requires a new mental model. Measure your success not by how hard you’re working and how many balls you keep in the air, but rather by the outcomes your team achieves. Consider those achievements that required little to no time or input from you as wins and a sign that you’ve given your team the tools and space to thrive.
We recently checked in with some of our senior clients and heard a variation of the phrase, “The crisis is over.” But after speaking with our users in middle management and on the frontlines of organizations, different experiences were left behind, far from it.
Professional instinct has conditioned us to avoid conflict with the age old saying “It’s bad for business.” Fast forward to today’s world of work and we’ll be the first to tell you that difference is what’s fueling outperforming teams. To lead your team in this direction, you’ll need to keep tension at the centre of your strategy.
Remote work is hindering your ability to offer constructive feedback even though you’ve built social license to be candid with your team. Team outings and workplace comradery are no longer at play when it comes to effectively delivering critical comments. Alas, your feedback is being hidden behind screens with nowhere to go.