As a manager, it can be hard to know how closely involved you should be with the work of your team members. But now more than ever, strong leadership abilities are far more important to an effective team than technical expertise.
Many seem to believe that a leader or manager must have a good understanding of the work their people are doing to be effective. I suspect this belief is rooted in an old-school view that workers can’t be trusted, and you need to supervise them and check up on their work.
Frankly, if you lead a team that’s like that, then you have far bigger problems than whether or not you need to understand their work. You have a recruitment issue, a motivation issue, a morale and cultural issue, and quite probably a leadership issue too.
Think about McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. If you want to spend more time at the Y end, then it is much more about the skills your team possess, and how much you can empower and support them to use those skills. Your skill should be that of being a leader, a mentor, and a resource provider, able to serve and support your team to be the best it can be.
Having many of the same skills as the team may well arise if you were promoted from within the team or it’s a professional environment, but this is fundamentally not necessary. It may even be a hindrance, making it harder to delegate, and leading to unwanted interference that may disempower. Think about the value you can and should add as a leader, and then do that.
Some believe not only that the leader or manager should have a sound technical understanding, but that they should be the source of all knowledge and wisdom. If this is your view, then you are still in trouble, just a different kind.
Let’s face it, your name probably isn’t Mr or Ms Google. It isn’t your job to be the encyclopaedia from which staff can obtain answers to every question. Indeed, consistently providing answers is unlikely to grow capability, develop successors, or enhance team performance.
Your job is to help people find the answers for themselves, and you are far more valuable when you ask the right questions than when you give the answer. You are there to help your people develop and grow, to learn and improve.
Have a look at Adair’s Action Centred Leadership. Your purpose is to find the point of intersection between the three circles, in order to help the team and each individual to learn and grow while delivering the right result for the organisation.
To put it another way: do managers need to know everything?
They need to know how to be a leader.