First Rule of Management: First, Do No Harm

Kanban Board
Kanban Board

Medical ethics begins with the principle primum non nocere, Do No Harm. It’s the first rule of management too. Not because harm caused may or may not be worse than harm not prevented. But because it is so common for managers to do more harm than good.

A recent study by Nielsen Co. found that

“Companies with less senior-management involvement in the new-product process generate 80% more revenue from new products than those with the highest levels of senior-management involvement …

“While we don’t dispute senior management’s strengths and good intentions, they are often too quick to get involved in the creative process, especially when things are not going well and their mere presence can stifle free thinking …

“When senior managers do get involved, he said, there’s a ‘tendency to hip shoot. They come in, throw a grenade, and it slows things down.'”

(hat tip: Larry Kramer).

Management, like government, is a tricky job. It’s necessary, and yet it frequently harms more than it helps.

I just came back from a vacation, walked into a Kanban meeting, and was amazed by how my team was functioning. I know they function like that all the time, but the vacation let me see it with fresh eyes.

But such a scene always leads to some introspection. There’s always that self-doubt and pain in the ego when seeing your people functioning perfectly without you. And I have too much dissonance here to see this objectively, so I’ll state my claim and let you decide.

Managers’ first job is to not interfere with their team. Be ready to step in when needed, and provide help when called on. Have other critical tasks that you can do so you don’t feel the need to interfere or save the day. But when in doubt, step aside and let your people do their jobs. Make sure they get the credit they deserve. Don’t sap their enthusiasm or step on their toes. Give them the control and authority they need to enjoy their jobs and to succeed at them. Help, guide, encourage, support. Take pride in how successful they are without you. But first: do no harm.

Image courtesy of alq666