Eternal managerial goal: Eliminate your job

The Sistine Chapel, ceiling frescos after restoration. The creation of Adam by Michelangelo (1475–1564)

“Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” — Dalai Lama

A trainer at one of my corporate leadership classes once said that, as managers, we are business parents; we help our team members grow by helping them find their path in becoming themselves.

We face an elusive dilemma in raising our children; we aspire for them to become grown-ups, self-sufficient, and to achieve their best. However, sometimes we catch ourselves not letting go and still trying to make decisions for them because — we believe — they are too young; we wish them not to repeat the mistakes we have made. This results in almost the opposite of our aspirations for them; we prevent them becoming self-sufficient.

Perhaps, subconsciously, we even believe that their failures reflect poorly on us . More specifically, their mistakes suggest that we are bad parents. The success of our children is the only way that we can be proud parents, right? How could their failure ever be a desired outcome of our parenthood? While counterintuitive, this is the price both our children and parents need to pay. The only way they can learn how to cope with the variations in life and develop their “algorithm” is by experiencing the ups and downs first hand. Naturally, we will coach them, their teachers will help further and their peers are their extended lab of experimentation. However, until and unless they internalize them all, they might know what is right but would still do the wrong.

When we break that cycle by knowing when to keep them under our wings and when to let them fly with their own wings, only then we will be on our way to become good parents. This is also the day our children attain their freedom to pursue their journey to adulthood. As they grow up, increasingly the more we let them be, the more they get closer to our common goal of them becoming their best.

Further still, our long-term dream for our children — even if we do not articulate it like this — is for them to be even better parents for their offspring than we have been to them. My children are not old enough for me to observe how they do parenting yet, but I know deep inside, that, as a parent, this is my ultimate goal: to see my grandchildren being raised better by my children than my children have been raised by my wife and myself.

Interestingly, this is not a new parenthood wisdom. There is a saying in Turkey that utilizes a financial metaphor; if the children are capital investments, our grandchildren are the interest we collect. Our long term desire is to stop investing as parents , elevate ourselves to grandparenting, and enjoy watching the parenting of our own children.

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”John Maynard Keynes

The counterintuitive guidance in raising our children is also applicable to the way we coach our team members. Although we do not have a kinship with them like we do with our kids, our wish for them is the same: for them to become their best. With our employees, early in our managerial career, we have difficulty letting them make decisions, mistakes, and learn from their failures. Just like the narrow thinking that the failures of children make us look bad, we believe the mistakes of our employees show that we are bad managers. Only with time, when we make our mistakes as young managers, do we learn to let our team learn to fly with their own wings.

Naturally, we do not passively wait for them to learn how to fly; we invest in them through hours of coaching, by giving them a chance to have other mentors, and by challenging them with project responsibilities for their on-the-job training. We share the risk of being penalized for their mistakes as a team, just like we would be sad while experiencing our children’s failures. This is the price we need to pay for their growth — it is the sacrifice of a good parent / manager makes to differentiate himself/herself from the ordinary ones.

With our employees too, our long-term desire is to help them become good managers as we move on with our own professional lives. This is the same desire we have for our children to become good parents. We would like to enjoy seeing how better managers they become for their own employees than we have been to them. Yes, our initial gut reaction to this desire would be dominated by our our own ego — why would we help anyone to be better than ourselves? Again, with the help of following counterintuition, we choose to tame our ego to elevate ourselves to grandparenting. Namely, we eliminate our jobs as managers and see our manager-to-be employees grow their own employees better than we have helped them to become.

“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.” — William James

Taking these counterintuitive paths of raising better parents and growing better managers of the future is the only way we can strike the right balance between our lives and those of the next generations. While we help our children to become better parents and our employees better managers than we are, we are indeed teaching us to learn how to balance between future vs. present, giving vs. taking, moderate vs. excessive.

This notion of helping our employees also makes sense mathematically; for every one employee we grow, there will be many other managers they coach; these managers in turn coach others. We achieve geometric growth! Those helping others proliferate.

This approach also has the notion of suppressing our ego for the bigger good, which also makes an evolutionary-sense. As the generations of managers get better at growing other managers, the future managers will be better than us. Selflessness prevails.

Although it is counterintuitive to eliminate our job as manager, it is needed for whom we care about and it is our only path to outlast our own lives.




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