‘The skills and abilities that made me a success in the past are not the skills and abilities that will make me a success in the future’
The image is easy to conjure up: a businessman — yes, man — in the 1950s wearing his suit and tie, sitting behind his desk, making decisions, giving permission and signing lots of forms. Isn’t that what a manager does?
This view is still common today, although maybe minus the suit and tie, and including both male and female executives. The concept is that, if I am in charge of it, then I need to be in complete control of it. If I am the manager, then I make the decisions. Right?
In contrast, I heard a founder of Netflix interviewed wherein he said he prides himself in not making decisions. He said he is particularly proud if he can make it an entire quarter without making a single decision.
This well illustrates one of my favorite adages: The skills and abilities that made me a success in the past are not the skills and abilities that will make me a success in the future.
Early in our career, or early in our company’s evolution, our ability to make well-thought-out and timely decisions is critical. Arguably, it is our core competency. Later, what is critical is our ability to facilitate other people making those decisions.
Two elements, among others, drive the reality that what worked in the past will not work in the future. One is that, as our organizations grow, our role as a decision-maker evolves. Whereas you may have decided the color of the paint on the wall of the hallway at one time, it soon will become a decision best left to others. The other element is that our society changes, and the tolerance of an omnipotent boss is decreasing rapidly. People expect to be a part of the decisions if not allowed to make the decisions themselves.
And all of this is good. A manager that clings onto decision-making too long will, at some point, hold the organization back. It will also impact the type of person willing to work for them; highly motivated, creative, inventive employees will not last long with a control-focused manager.
It has been said that our role as a parent is to give our children first roots, then wings. Similarly, our role as a manager is to first make decisions, and then empower others to make those decisions.
Dave Bartholomew and his wife Nancy are retired and living outside of Leavenworth. The last 14 years of his career were served as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities.