The Mess and the Aide-de-Camp

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Tobin was one of the top performing bosses I studied to
find out what they did that made them more productive than their peers. At first
glance, you wouldn’t expect Tobin to be a great boss.

Tobin was a mess. Today he might be a “hot mess.” When they were handing out
organizational skills, Tobin had clearly been off somewhere else. That’s why he
had an aide-de-camp.

When I met Tobin, I also met George who was his current aide-de-camp. You
wouldn’t find that title on his company’s organization chart. The job of the
aide-de-camp was unofficial. The purpose was to save Tobin from himself.

It started years before with Clare who was great at details and a member of
Tobin’s team. One day, exasperated at his lack of organization, she told him
that he needed a “work nanny” to take care of him. The next day, Tobin took
Clare aside and told her he was delegating most of the detail stuff to her, but
he thought her title should be “aide-de-camp.”

With Clare in the aide-de-camp role, the whole team got better. Tobin made it
to meetings on time, with the right files. Vacation schedules were filled out
fairly and on time. Team members were recognized on service anniversaries.
Project milestones were posted and updated. Team members quit worrying about
Tobin’s organizational skills and got the full benefit of what he did well.

What Tobin did well was pretty much everything else. He had a clear idea of
what should change and an easy way of communicating it. He loved helping his
team members succeed and he was a great coach. With an aide-de-camp, he would
concentrate on those things. Productivity improved. So did morale.

Clare benefitted, too. She developed a solid working knowledge of what a boss
did in her company and a collegial relationship with Tobin’s bosses. When she
was promoted, everyone was happy for her, but worried about how the team would
work without her.

Tobin quickly laid that to rest. He announced that, henceforth, aide-de-camp
would be a permanent role on the team. He asked the team members to select
Clare’s replacement from among themselves.

After that, there was always an aide-de-camp on the team. In many ways it was
an “assistant boss” role, and the people who held it were often promoted. It
worked for Tobin because it allowed him to build on his strengths and make his
weaknesses irrelevant. It worked for the team because of the way a boss’s job is
structured in most companies today.

Every boss fills three roles: leader, manager, and supervisor. You have to do
your own leadership work because you can’t delegate the direction setting and
purpose defining that a boss must do. You can’t delegate much of the supervision
work, the part of the job where you work, one-on-one with team members. But
management work is something different.

Many management tasks are what Frederick Herzberg termed “hygiene factors” in
his Two
Factor Theory
. They need to be done to an acceptable level or there will be
dissatisfaction and chaos. And they don’t require the special communication,
direction setting, and coaching skills you need for leadership or supervision

Boss’s Bottom Lines

Building on strengths and making weaknesses irrelevant is a good strategy for
you, your team, and your team members.

If you are going to delegate any of your work as a boss, it should be from
among the hygiene factors.

Special Note: If you got something from this post,
you should thank Jesse Lyn Stoner. Tobin and his high performing teams have been
in my bag of examples for years, but I could never make sense of how such a mess
of a manager could also have high-performance teams. I could describe what I
saw, but not explain why it worked in a way that others could use it as an
example. Then I read Jesse’s post “Leaders vs.
Managers: The Real Answer to What’s Better
” and the very short video report
on some of her research. That post gave me the key to unlock the mystery.

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