Mark Palmer
10 answers

Subordinates who lack initiative often escalate common roadblocks to their managers. Or micro-managers often automatically start working on tasks their subordinates are supposed to perform. Either way, the result is the same. Managers end up doing the work their direct reports should be doing.

This is a failure of the manager, the subordinate and the organization.

Here is a good ground rule for the manager to share with the subordinate when he/she brings up a problem – "At no time while helping you with this problem will your problem become my problem. If your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem. I cannot help you if you don't have a problem."

Here are the levels of autonomy managers can offer their staff, to free up their time to create higher value for their organizations.

1. Ask staff to "wait until told" (lowest level of autonomy, which kills initiative and managerial time);
2. Demand staff to "always ask me what to do"
3. Recommend an action, but then take the action (instead of allowing staff to take it)
4. Allow staff to act, but advise immediately on the course of action
5. Allow staff to act on their own, and ask them to routinely report (highest autonomy and initiative)

Not all problems are created equal. Mangers should roll up their sleeves and take over from time-to-time if the team faces a major challenge.

However the more initiative they encourage, the more their staff will grow professionally and the less stressed the manager will be. Best of all, greater value will be created for the organization.