Dear Managers, Please Get Out of the Way

John Gruber
· 5 min read
Men in Black

“Before y’all go beaming me up there’s one thing you gotta remember: you chose me so you recognized the skills, so I don’t want you to call me sport, kid, or anything like that. You got me?”

Will Smith gave some of the best management advice I’ve ever heard. Being an effective manager isn’t an easy task. Constant deadlines and fires to be put out. Keeping everyone on track and doing their best work without burn out isn’t an easy juggling act. Especially when you’re knee deep in it.

I’m teaching my two young boys how to swim. Every day we go to the pool they love jumping in. For a while, they needed their hands held before they jumped in. And what happened when I stopped putting my hand out? They’d get a little nervous, take a few seconds and jump in. My kids didn’t need my hand, they only took it because it was there.

The fact is, your employees don’t need you to hold their hand as they work. It may seem like it today, but the fact is, they’re only doing it because that’s how they’ve been doing it. When the hand holding stops, the trust will begin.

After Will Smith gave his short speech about respect Tommy Lee Jones shoots back

Cool, whatever you say, slick, but I need to tell you something about all your skills. As of right now, they mean precisely… nothing

Without strong leadership, the best skills and the hardest workers are useless. High performing teams excel because the whole team works as one. The balancing act isn’t easy for leadership. They can’t wave a magic wand and keep everyone united but there is a trick to it.

Leadership should never tell employees how to do their job. Leadership should set challenging objectives. Lofty yet realistic. An objective that pushes employees to be the best. To reach farther than they thought possible. Management should keep the end goal in mind at all times. Let smart employees tell you how you’re going to achieve those goals.

It’s the responsibility of every team member to figure out how to do their job. How to reach a new high. How to achieve what wasn’t possible one year, one month, or one week ago. How do leaders set rigorous standards without telling an employee how to get there? It’s easier than you think.

Create measurable, time-bound objectives.

We all envision the world differently. We all have had different life experiences. Life experiences that brought us together yet still make us different. For a team to thrive, everyone must be unique. Unique experiences help us approach problems differently. Everyone creating a solution to the same problem. At the same time, we all need the same vision for our team’s success. That’s where measurable, time-bound objectives come in.

By making objectives and goals measurable you're creating a clear line in the sand. Your lighting up the runway so it can be seen regardless of the weather. Putting up velvet ropes to clearly define where your team can and can’t go. You’re setting your team and attainable goal, not telling them how to get there but clearly telling them where you need them to be.

A business leader once told me, tell clients as soon as possible (ASAP) but always give time centered deadlines internally. ASAP makes people feel important. It lets them know their issues and priorities are important without setting any deadline. You can’t possibly be late because you never said when you’d be done. At the same time, setting time-centric deadlines internally gives a clear answer. It allows colleagues to plan accordingly.

If your team is like most they have a dozen bosses. Project managers, product managers, directors, VPs of bathrooms, virtually every salesperson. It’s okay if your team is pulled 100 different ways. By setting time-centric deadlines your arming your staff. They’ll know when they can help others and they’ll know when they have to put their foot down. Your team will be able to say “I have to do X by Y”. Giving your staff the ability to tell people no or giving realistic deadlines on other tasks.

560% More Positive Feedback than Negative

To make good employees great you need 560% more positive feedback than negative. People thrive on knowing they’re doing well. Positive feedback creates a forest fire of motivation. Just like a small fire, it’s easy to extinguish a demotivated person’s energy and enthusiasm. When employees are given constant positive feedback, their motivation becomes a forest fire. Instead of going out, it’s able to withstand anything. Not only will it burn through anything in its path it will ignite a fire in colleagues across the team. Positive reinforcement isn’t the only thing scientists found when comparing high/low performing teams.

Source: The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model

Great teams ask a lot of questions. Everyone’s constantly learning from one another. Working hard to understand why something was done the way it was before advocating a solution. Low performing teams will constantly advocate solutions instead of asking questions first. Asking great questions helps everyone grow and keeps the team dynamic and on track to building a better mousetrap.

Once everyone is asking great questions and receiving positive reinforcement another change takes effect. High performing teams support one another more. Every member starts to see the value in one another. They become a team their excited to be a part of. They stop worrying if they’re the best or the worst. They don’t have a need to talk about themselves to show how superior they are. They become one united, unbreakable unit ready to face any challenge.


It’s not easy changing the way you’ve always done things. It’s not easy letting go. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Making one or two small steps a day can radically change your team over a few months. By letting you go your team's morale will improve and your workload decrease. You’ll start to see your employees full potential in tackling any problem.

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John Gruber

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Productivity and technology to make the world a better place. Because we all need a little help and motivation sometimes.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +513K people. Follow to join our community.

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