Make Your Manager Obsolete…and More Relevant

One of the greatest lessons I learned from a mentor was to work towards making your Manager “obsolete.” A lesser Manager may feel threatened by this, but a great Manager understands that this allows him to focus his attention on larger, more important challenges and frees him to pursue his own career and personal development. In practice, what this means is that for every 1 thing you bring to your Manager, let there be 50 other things you did not need to. It encourages self-reliance, creative problem-solving, and holds you accountable for making sound decisions.

There are smart and less than smart ways to go about this. Firstly, you must assess whether this is a philosophy that your Manager embraces. Ensure that you are not overstepping any boundaries. A productive way to do this is to simply ask your Manager if there is anything you can help him with. Maybe he needs someone to polish up the formatting on an important presentation, maybe he needs someone to proofread a resource planning map, maybe he just needs someone to track down a few folks and setup a meeting. Approach each of these tasks as a learning opportunity. At first these may seem menial or trivial tasks, but each thing that you do for your Manager exposes you to valuable skills you can develop. That assignment formatting his presentation? Perhaps it will be a talk about strategic goals or an operational review of group performance. That resource planning map will teach you the mechanics of the organization or perhaps how to balance and prioritize personnel. That meeting might just introduce you to other key Directors in your division or score you an invite to listen in and take notes.

Strive to be the last item on your Manager’s worry list. Managers aren’t stupid, they know how much effort goes into the assignments they hand to you. Delivering a challenging task with barely an incident speaks more volumes about your abilities than a brash display of heroics. Save those heroics for true times of crisis. If you’ve established yourself as the most effective person on your Manager’s team requiring the least amount of direction, then you will become your Manager’s first choice for those really juicy assignments. No Manager likes a high-maintenance employee.

Don’t confuse helping your Manager with “replacing” your Manager. This sets up this scenario as something more threatening, more subversive. Perhaps this also stems from a weakness in using the term, “obsolete.” Obsolescence implies a thing as being defunct or no longer in use. So instead I suggest the term “relevant.” When you help your Manager avoid getting pulled into every little decision, you are giving him the gift of time. A great Manager will use this time to figure out ways to help you grow and be more effective. A great Manager will use this time to pursue and create new opportunities for his team. A great Manager will use this time to think about and drive initiatives that help the Company and its Customers be more successful. In short, he delivers greater value and becomes more relevant to your organization. By extension, you increase your relevance because you are delivering on your commitments, developing your skills, and establishing your invaluable contribution to the team.

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