I had a conversation recently, with someone much smarter than I am, and she was telling me about how excited she was that she finally had someone to lead one of the most important divisions at her company. I asked why she thought it had taken so long to find someone, and her response wasn’t what I expected.
She told me she had encountered many talented candidates, and she could have hired any of them and things would have been mostly fine. However, she was willing to wait until she found someone she knew could do the job without her. It was a reminder that the best leaders aren’t necessarily the best at doing things, but they are the best at one particular thing–finding, equipping, and helping others to do their thing.
I couldn’t help but think back to something I remember reading in one of Warren Buffett’s shareholder letters. This one was from 2010, and Buffett was talking about how his company empowers its managers to do their thing. Here’s the relevant passage:
At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish. And their wishes do differ: There are managers to whom I have not talked in the last year, while there is one with whom I talk almost daily. Our trust is in people rather than process. A “hire well, manage little” code suits both them and me.
It was those four words that Buffett puts in quotes at the end that had tucked themselves away in my brain and were finding their way to the surface again: “Hire well. Manage little.”
Let’s be honest, that goes against what most managers believe to be their job. Hiring is often a function of filling roles as quickly as possible, and managing is how we make sure the people in those roles don’t run too quickly or knock anything over. It’s how we make sure they’re doing things the way we would do them.
Except, part of the point of hiring well is so that you don’t have to worry whether they do things the way you would. Besides, if you hire someone whose hand you have to hold, you’re still doing the work. Only, you’re doing the work with the additional burden of carrying someone else along with you.
Instead, you hire them to do what they’re good at. Your role is different.
I think Buffett is suggesting that the real mark of successful managers is that they put their effort towards making sure they’ve hired the right people instead of wasting time micromanaging them. If you feel the need to micromanage, one of two things is true:
The first is that you hired the wrong person, and they aren’t able to do the job without you looking over their shoulder. If that’s the case, it’s really on you. You did a poor job hiring, and you got exactly what you should have expected.
Or, and this is the more likely scenario, your understanding of what it means to manage people is broken. Managing people well doesn’t mean getting involved in every decision. It doesn’t mean tracking everything they do all day or checking in constantly.
Buffett says he communicates with the people he manages once every two years. Beyond that, it’s up to them to decide how often they need his input. I’m sure that varies by individual, but the point is, it isn’t determined by Buffett.
Instead, manage by setting clear expectations for your team, providing the resources they need, keeping them accountable for their performance, and celebrating their success. Focus on those four things, and you’ll find you spend far less time managing, and your team will spend far more time excelling at whatever it is you hired them for in the first place.
With Just 4 Words, Warren Buffett Explained the Most Important Trait of the Best Managers Wire Services/ Inc..