The Art of Letting Go

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When Kitty started working for me, she didn’t know
anything about the job. I trained her and coached her as she learned every key
task. And for each one I asked myself, “Is she ready to handle this on her own
yet?” And I held on too long every time.

Every boss knows in his or her head that the most effective teams are made up
of people who work well on their own. They can all be trusted to do their job
willingly and well. It makes work more satisfying and it makes everyone’s life
easier when that’s the way things are.

Getting there is the challenge. You can’t delegate work to a new team member
who doesn’t know the ropes yet. Training and coaching are the order of the day.
And that begs the question: “When do you cut them loose?”

In my experience, most bosses get that one wrong most of the time. For a
variety of reasons, good and bad, our team members are usually ready, willing,
and able to work on their own before we think they are. That’s the bad news.

But, as the therapists tell us, when we recognize that we have a problem,
we’ve taken the first step to dealing with it. Here are some truths that can
help you choose what to do many different cases.

Human beings make mistakes. You make them. Your team members
make them. That will not change, so forget trying to eliminate mistakes.

We make more mistakes when we’re learning. That, too, is
just the way it is. So if you’re waiting for the part where learning mistakes go
away, stop waiting. Mistakes are part of learning and we all have to make our

Coaching is constant. It’s part of your job. You coach that
team member now. You will do so later. The neat thing is when they also coach

Control is a variable. When people are new to you and a task
you will exercise more control and supervision than when they have learned the
basics. After they’ve achieved a level of mastery, you will assign work and
leave the choices about variables to them.

Control is a continuum. You don’t control one moment, then
throw a switch and not control any longer. You loosen the control ties
gradually. First you tell them what to do. Then, you let them tell you what they
plan to do and coach them to do it better. Later, you let them work on their
own, but you follow up closely. Still later, you only supervise when the
situation or performance warrants attention.

Boss’s Bottom Line

If you want them to grow, you have to let go.

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