Learning To Let Go And Focus On Managing

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It’s been a full year, give or take, since I’ve officially taken on a new role as a people manager, having some “teasers” to not just taking on bigger clients as part of my personal growth, but also directly supervising and advising on other clients held by my team members.

Some might consider a “manager” as someone better than the team members under him or her. I have to admit, I used to think like that too when I just started out as a fresh graduate.

My idea of a manager, like many others new to the corporate world, was a person who proved to be proficient in the job enough that he or she got promoted to lead the team.

To be fair, many (traditional) companies still look at managers that way. You do your job well, probably better than others, or at least look like you do, and you get promoted to the “shiny” title of “manager”.

But most people get the idea of a manager wrong – managers (and leaders) are supposed to help others in the team do better than the former and if the latter were left to their own devices.

In short, managers exist to improve the team. The skills required as a manager are often more than just being good at what they were doing as individual contributors in the team – they have to look at the bigger picture.

“Bad” managers are terrible, mostly because they are not good with people, but they’re almost always very excellent if they work solo. I mean, that’s how they got there in the first place because no business owner in the right mind would promote an incompetent person.

Learning to let go

Because of my knowledge of this, I do my very best not to fall in the same trap. Sometimes, I still feel the “lazy” self deep within telling me to just solve it on behalf of my team member, but I power through by doing the hard thing. That is to spend more time and effort now by not giving the answer, and just drop hints – as much as possible.

However, the hardest part of letting go is when I have to distribute some of my portfolio to other team members to free up my time for training, building processes, and mentoring those who need help.

Recently, I was told I would have to pass more than half of my current portfolio among several members of the team. As one would have guessed, it’s a bittersweet feeling.

On one hand, I’ll finally have fewer days of OT per week (up to this point, I’ve been working extra hours every single day since I’ve joined the agency), and I could dedicate more time to individual clients and helping to develop the team, which I’ve enjoyed every bit so far.

On the other, all the clients I’ve to handover have stayed with me for more than a year, and we’ve built a chemistry working together. It’s like leaving multiple companies and tendering resignations to multiple bosses all at one go, and it’s not because they’re terrible, it’s just a natural effect of “growing up”.

Some of these clients have stayed with me since I joined the company, making it even harder to let them go. Although letting go is exactly what I need to do, so other clients like them will get the same kind of service when the other team members get the mentorship they need to reach those standards.

Focusing on managing

I’m not a “natural” manager. I derive most joy from working on projects alone, figuring my way, ironing the kinks out, and solving problems by myself. As an introvert, I frequently turn inwards to ponder, and I’m always fascinated by the “how”.

I can spend hours looking at various solutions to a problem, often at the expense of productivity and ending up to pay the price of my temptation to fall deep into the rabbit hole. In the process, though, I learn many things others wouldn’t because they give up without reaching the end.

However, one can only go so far alone. I might be valuable to my agency right now because I’m just willing to go the extra mile most wouldn’t, but it might not be scalable over the long term.

Also, knowledge transfer is an aspect most small companies overlook when growing, becoming the reason for their downfall. If the company depends only on a few people’s knowledge, and that knowledge is not shared with the rest, when the scale exceeds those few people’s bandwidth, everything crumbles.

With what I know now, which isn’t a lot, I should do my best to help other younger and newer team members leap frog so they can reach similar standards faster, and maybe even better.

To be clear, this isn’t an altruistic move – I always believe that we give credit to the mentors of successful people too, albeit lesser, which is precisely the point. If one can help others succeed, or even surpass them, one would be successful in one’s own right, too.

Management is a constantly changing landscape

What was deemed as good management in the past is quite different in today’s context. A good specialist doesn’t always manage well. In fact, some of the best managers of the world’s largest companies are decent at their job, but excellent at helping their teams succeed.

After a year of dabbling in management, I still can’t say for sure if management is for me. After all, your direct reports will seldom give you critical feedback to your face unless they’re leaving the company.

That said, I’m doing my best because I love working with people, almost as much as working alone. Most of all, I feel fulfilled when others succeed and I had a direct or indirect role to play in that success. Some say great parents make great managers and vice versa, and I aspire to be a great parent myself.

About the author

Vance Wong
Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.

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Vance Wong by Vance Wong

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Vance Wong

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.