In a recent mentoring session, I asked one of our smart young people where she needed to improve to keep climbing our management ladder. Her response – and she is someone we have already promoted three times – was one I’ve heard often before: “I need to get better at letting go and giving people on my team more responsibility.”
I think there are several reasons younger PR managers have trouble “letting go.” The first applies to Ellen (not her real name). When you enter virtually any professional service firm, your early years are spent in learning the technical craft of the job. Soon after, if you are any good at all, you start to learn how your clients’ businesses operate. This is not easy stuff. Simultaneously developing technical proficiency and industry expertise requires hard work, trial and error, three steps forward and two steps backwards. It is ground hard won, and the winners get promoted.
Invariably, the positions to which they are promoted require them to lead teams of less skillful people. They will now be judged on two factors: (1) how well they satisfy their clients, and (2) how well they develop the skills of their team members. Our firm has an incredibly strong client satisfaction culture, which can create problems. Young PR professionals can be reluctant to “let go” and often try to do all the work themselves because it is best for the client. This is understandable but not, as Ellen knew, the best way to grow a team.
Another “letting go” problem is less attractive. In this case, the young manager believes that hoarding power will make him indispensable to his employer – “they can’t do it without me.” Or, in the worst case scenario, Jim does not want his team members to grow so that he will always retain superiority. Management’s responsibility in these situations is to make it crystal clear to the employee that his promotion is linked directly to the success of his team members. You can’t grow a firm with folks like Jim in key positions.
What should Ellen do? Remember, she knows that she must develop her team members. My suggestion was to include as many team members as possible early in any decision process. If people clearly understand why they are doing something, they are likely to do it better. They may also come up with ideas that the leader would not. Plus, spending more time with team members will raise the mutual confidence levels of all concerned.
What would you do to help younger PR Professionals “let go?”
To reach John: