What are you the expert in?

My team at work is bigger than before; despite my periodic feelings of inadequacy as a leader, I figure this means I’m doing something right. In a conversation with a friend last week – and again with someone on my team – I listed out the “basic premise under which I function as a manager”… and I thought I would share it here. I go through this every time someone new joins me and periodically as necessary when they’re not taking care of themselves. That will make sense in a bit.

We’re all grown-ups here. You manage your work and your time and your calendar and your personal AND work life, including the vacation time you take, when you’re too sick to work, and when you just need a break to recover your optimism. You let me know when you’ll be out of the office or need a day off, but don’t ask me for permission. As the grown-up in your charge of your world, I’m going to assume you have coverage and aren’t leaving anyone screwed. If you’re lying about being sick, what do I care if your work gets done on time and well? I don’t, so you may as well not even bother to lie.

Also, this means it’s up to you to balance your work and life, which means if you have to work like a dog for a week, you should make that up to yourself in whatever way makes sense. Don’t wait for me to do it… and know that I support you paying yourself back in whatever way makes sense. If I’m doing my job well, you’ll see that I try to be a good example. If you don’t see me online, it could mean I have an out of office appointment or just that I needed a break from email and IM to get things done. These options are at your disposal as well.

Speaking of not caring, when I say I don’t care, I don’t mean it’s not important to you or you’re not important to me – I mean, I do not have an opinion and that’s fine. I don’t care about a lot of things you do because I trust you to care. So, make me care if I need to, but don’t be worried if I don’t. And don’t make me care if I don’t really need to, okay?

And speaking of trust, you have mine until you prove you shouldn’t, then you have to earn it back. I will ask questions because I want to learn, not because I’m second-guessing you, but if I catch a whiff of something not good, I’ll dive right in, and if it turns out you need help, I’m going to stay there until we’re both comfortable you’re good. Both of us.

You’re the director of your work, meaning, you decide where, how, why, etc. My role is to help you do that well, so the best way for you to think of my services is in terms of prioritization. If you have too much to do, come to me and I’ll tell you what’s most important to me. We can argue importance then, and you can leave assured that you’re working on what matters. The best use of a manager, in my opinion, is always to confirm priorities. No matter what level, no matter how close to the top either of us are, making sure our priorities are in line is never a bad thing.

You are the expert in what you do, therefore I will rely on your judgment and recommendations, so when you bring me a problem, I expect not only an accurate background story but also a decent analysis and strong recommendation.  I might disagree, and certainly sometimes my ego interferes and means I offer you my solution because that makes me feel good, but when I’m doing my part, I should be shooting holes in your recommendation and offering suggestions to make it better, not vice versa.

Speaking of expertise, this is the most important thing you’ll say to me, so spend some time thinking it through: what are you the expert IN? Put another way: what is your value to us? Here’s mine: I take chaotic situations and bring structure to the decision making process, especially when resources are limited and priorities matter. I help people decide even when they don’t want to.

Here’s why it matters: when I feel a little lost or unproductive, when I’m not sure how to help, I refer back to my area of expertise. Think about it. Up above, I just offered to help you prioritize. I didn’t offer to help you build a project plan because that not my area of expertise. See how that works? Once you know what you’re the expert in, everything else is a little easier. You know what to focus on, where not to waste your time, and how you can make a difference in our business.

So, take a moment: what are YOU the expert in?

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