Early in my career, one of my corporate mentors took me aside and told me, “If you hire an artist to paint your picture, don’t tell them how to paint it.” That piece of advice has hung with me for more than 40 years now, and from time to time I use it with co-workers and clients.
For the most part, the feedback I get is very positive. People will tell me it is sage advice and that it makes a lot of sense. Some will qualify their reaction by adding to the statement things like, “But do hold them accountable” or “Be sure you are very clear about your objectives.” And believe it or not, I understand and appreciate all of that and probably agree with 95 percent of the add-on suggestions.
What is very interesting, though, is that from time to time I will hear from some people who surprise me with how they are “offended” by such a statement or admit they “just don’t get it.”
In nearly every case, as time rolls along, those same people are the ones who I find changing game rules, repurposing objectives, and micromanaging the work at hand. They do this almost instinctively, with little concern for what has been accomplished or the outcome to be realized. Maybe they just can’t help themselves and don’t want to be reminded of what poor managers and leaders they really are. When a leader has confidence in himself/herself and the team members chosen, it’s best to let them “play the game” to the best of their ability. Have confidence. Have faith. Offer encouragement and don’t throw up barriers.
I stand by the statement. To be successful, surround yourself with good people, understand their strengths, assign appropriate tasks, and then get the hell out of the way and let them make you proud of what you collectively accomplish … with reasonable direction.