As managers we often think that we bring value by “getting things done.” If we create a new report or design a training initiative or procure a new technology we think we are bringing value. If we solve a P&L problem or devise a new procedure that generates efficiencies, we (and others) see that as actively “managing” our business. And, in fact, doing the right things, particularly at the right time, can bring great value. It is no revelation that highly productive managers are generally preferable to less productive ones.
On the other hand, sometimes the most valuable role a leader can play is simply to make life easier for his or her subordinates. And ironically, this can be the most difficult task a manager has. It is often exceedingly difficult because it requires us to “take the heat” for an issue in our department, division, company, etc. It is often difficult because making life easier for our employees sometimes requires that we “absorb” stress so they don’t have to; that we bestow the credit for successes on others while accepting accountability for failures—even when we are primarily responsible for the success and/nor had nothing directly to do with the failure! Sometimes it’s just about effectively “filtering” problems or bad news—not because we want to keep information from our colleagues, but because often there are problems or bad news that our subordinates cannot do anything about. The last thing a manager wants is for an employee to feel bad or worried about something he or she cannot affect.
“Taking bullets” for our employees may seem counterintuitive and even bad for our own upward mobility! And, sometimes, in the short run, we do pay a small price. However, in the long run, not only do we get better performance, respect, and loyalty from our subordinates (yes, they see it clearly) but we also benefit personally. How? Our teams perform highly, which reflects positively on us. Our employees appreciate and respect the fact that we put them first and, when the time arises, they will “have our back” as well. And, lastly, others (our managers, organizational leaders, etc.) also see that we support our employees, accept accountability, and deflect credit among other things, and in the long run, such behavior is generally rewarded.