The one with nothing to do

I was recently involved in a conversation about how you prepare people for business continuity/crisis management. One of the comments made in the conversation was that at times (in both simulation and real life situations) people try to do too much or feel the need to do something/get involved. The drivers to this could be many fold but my thoughts at the time was that when it’s ‘all hands on deck’ all deck hands feel the need to be seen to do something (or else feel useless) but probably more importantly when in the grip of the tension and anxiety of such a situation people feel better if they are doing something rather than nothing. One of my colleagues (I think it may have even been my boss) came out with a great quote they had heard which was “he also serves who stands and waits” and I have since found out it’s from John Milton.

In the context of the conversation it was very pertinent and will definitely form some part of the support we give people in preparing for these situations but I have thought about it several times since in the context of management and leadership more generally.

I remember as a younger junior manager that my default setting was doing. In order to be seen to be running the team I had to get involved in every conversation, try and solve every problem and generally make a complete and utter nuisance of myself. With the advance of my grey hair I have become increasingly comfortable not just in holding people to account but more importantly allowing people the space and autonomy to complete their work – supporting them but not becoming an interfering pain in the arse on too regular a basis.

It was another recent conversation that brought the quote front of mind and it was with another senior colleague who was discussing a situation developing in his team. I can’t remember his exact words but he said something like, “there’s always a point like this where it can one of two ways – I’m letting them get stuck into it to see which way they go but I know I’ve got plenty of time to help them course correct if they need to”. I remember thinking how powerful his statement was and how it showed both his experience and his personal confidence at being able to let people make mistakes and knowing when it was necessary (and not just comfortable) to intervene.

There was definitely a lesson for me in his observations and it has already caused me to step back on two different occasions and think about the way I handle something. It also made me think with the triumph of competence over experience in how we assess talent that there was a challenge for those of us in HR roles to understand how this confidence and comfort should manifest in those we support in leadership roles.

Since today I am running an Away Day for one of our senior teams I will contradict myself and get on with a day where it’s unlikely I will have an opportunity to do nothing, but with that said I am sure there will be at least one moment today where I need to let the conversation move on and not stick my facilitation snout into it so maybe a Milton-Moment or two for me after all!


1 Comment

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One response to “The one with nothing to do

  1. Rob – exactly how did you learn to let go? I’m working on my delegations skills, and have to say, not always winning.

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