In 1927, the theoretical physicist Werner Karl Heisenberg developed the uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that, at a microscopic level, it is impossible to know both the momentum and position of a particle. To do so you need extremely sensitive and generally immensely powerful measurement devices. As a result, those devices must disturb the very system under investigation. We must look so closely at the thing being measured that we can affect how it behaves. Therefore, we cannot be totally sure of the results of the measurement.
I am convinced that some variation of Heisenberg’s principle can be applied to the management of people, albeit not at the quantum level. There are many leaders today that manage people so closely that it affects their natural behavior as well as their performance. If left alone, their people would operate and behave differently, maybe even better. Therefore, the behavior that a leader thinks they are seeing – and sometimes measuring – is being affected by that leader (i.e., the observer). So how can the leader be totally sure about the results of their observations? How can they be completely certain that the performance that they are observing is not being affected by their close monitoring and management of that person?
We know that this management style is called micromanagement. We also know that this management style tends to hinder the performance of the very people the leader is intending to energize. This is a paradox of management in general. Leaders endeavor to attract, hire, and retain some of the best people in the industry. They will assign them to the most critical tasks, believing that these people will be the best people to make it happen. These leaders will ensure that these top performers have been provided with the most advanced tools available. They will make certain that the people are given the best training possible to guarantee their methods and techniques are honed. They will expend a lot of their company’s capital endeavoring to guarantee the success of those valuable professionals that they hired. They will then manage these outstanding people so closely that they adversely affect both their behavior and performance. Unfortunately, this is a variation of the Heisenberg principle at a much higher level than the quantum level.
This is a scary situation, isn’t it?
If this is your management style then the question becomes, “What should you do?” The assignment you gave to your people is extremely important to the company. In addition, the company is holding you, the leader, responsible for the success of this endeavor. So again, “What should you do?”
The answer is simple, remember, there is a reason why you hired those particular people. There is a reason why you placed these particular people on this critical assignment and/or project.
You have endeavored to get the best and the brightest in each discipline that you needed. You did not skimp. You did not compromise. You did not settle! You pursued your people needs with the highest level of tenacity that you could muster up. You took time to pursue, select, and hire the right people because you knew that, later, it would pay great dividends to you, the people you hired, and your company.
Now that you have surrounded yourself with successful, hardworking, highly skilled professionals, there is only one thing left to do…get the heck out of their way! There is a reason why you hired these particular people. These people are good. You know it…and they know it.
Your people will need a leader that is like the conductor of an orchestra. In other words, you need to let them manage themselves. The conductor does not tell the woodwind section how to adjust their reeds. The maestro does not show the percussion section how to tighten their drums. The conductor just assumes they know that part. The conductor ensures that they know how to play together to create beautiful music. The conductor coaches them on when to participate and whether they should be playing loudly or softly.
So, the next time that you think you know and understand the performance of your people, remember the uncertainty principle. Ask yourself, “Am I having an impact on the performance I am observing?” You must determine if your management style is that of a micromanager or maestro.