Great bosses know: Hire good people, but don’t leave them alone

Ever have someone send you a link to an article, knowing it’s a hot button issue for you? It just happened to me, as my Poynter.org editor Julie Moos called my attention to a brief post on The Atlantic’s website, by the author of “Quiet,” a highly regarded book about introverts. Susan Cain makes an excellent argument for hiring introverts and I say “amen.” Unfortunately, Cain tried to buttress her good case by invoking a dusty management bromide that’s more than a pet peeve of mine:

Hire good people and leave them alone.

I know what Cain is trying to underscore: that many introverts do great work in solitude and managers should respect that. They shouldn’t assume that quiet employees are devoid of ideas or initiative because that’s simply not true. But bosses, promise me you won’t take the “leave them alone” message literally — no matter what type of personalities are on your team.

That phrase, and variations on it, fly in the face of truly good management. I know some bosses use it in a self-effacing way, suggesting their people are so talented they barely need a boss, or as an earnest rejection of micromanagement. All good.

But here’s what I also know: Employees — both introverts and extroverts — are hungry for feedback. They don’t want to be left alone to figure out how they matter to the organization, what they’re doing well, or what they could do to get even better. It comes up time and again in the thousands of 360-degree feedback reports I’ve read about managers. I’m so passionate about the subject that I devote a whole chapter of my new book to feedback, and how to deliver it effectively.

The feedback chapter of “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know” begins with an assault on the very management chestnut Cain had mentioned:

At some time or other, we’ve all heard this one. A manager is asked the secret to success and replies:

“Hire good people and get out of their way.”

On the surface, it sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s terribly misleading — as bogus as those weight loss ads that claim you can take a magic pill and your pounds will melt away while you sleep. No way. Whether it’s dropping pounds or building a quality workforce, you won’t get results without hard work.

By all means, hire good people, and don’t micromanage them. But never become an out-of-the-way manager. Keep in touch, with just the right touch. That’s the challenge of performance management.

So what’s the right touch? That’s where Cain and I would no doubt be back in agreement.

The right touch starts with knowing that each introvert on your team is unique, and tailoring your management approach accordingly. They may share some common characteristics of introversion, but to varying degrees. Some may enjoy working solo and avoid the spotlight, but don’t assume that’s the case for all. Want proof? In every leadership class I teach for TV news anchors, we do the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I’ve found that in each class, at least one out of four of these folks — who are the face and voice of a station’s journalism, who talk for a living and can deftly ad-lib — happen to be introverts.

I’ve written a good deal here on Poynter.org about how to understand and get the best from introverts and extroverts alike, and how easily each type can misunderstand the other. My Poynter colleague Butch Ward and I recently did a Poynter chat with advice on how managers can get the best from the introverts and extroverts on their staffs (you can view the replay here). While we advocated different approaches for different personalities (Butch is an introvert, I’m an extrovert, so we spoke from personal and professional perspectives), neither of us advised employers to “hire good people and leave them alone.”

That’s because we both believe that the most important thing great bosses do is help others succeed. As I write in “Work Happy,” the way to accomplish that is to modify that hot-button management mantra I so dislike into something far more helpful:

Hire good people and give them great feedback.

Listen to this column in today’s podcast, the 115th in the Great Bosses series:

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  • Anonymous

    I agree! Bruce Tulgan writes about this in his book, ‘It’s OK to Be the Boss.” That means both routine and impromptu feedback is crucial to eliminating problems early on and to provide challenges that foster personal and professional growth. That’s what a good boss does!