If you want your people to grow and develop sometimes the best thing to do is to back off.
Herbie Hancock, the legendary jazz keyboardist, tells two stories about trumpet virtuoso and bandleader Miles Davis that illustrate this point. Hancock was an up and coming player and got an invitation to audition with Davis and his band. Davis was already a legend but Hancock was still cutting his chops.
Told to report to Miles’ house, Hancock met the band and Miles played with the group for a few minutes then as Hancock told an audience on Sirius XM Radio, he threw down his trumpet on the couch and went upstairs. The band kept playing. Miles did the same thing a day later. And after a few days he invited Hancock to cut a record with his band. Hancock says that he learned twenty five years later that Miles’s disappearing act was purposeful. He went upstairs to listen to the group via his intercom. He knew that young musicians could be intimidated by his presence so he removed that distraction.
Another lesson Hancock shared with his audience (in conjunction with his new memoir Possibilities) about Miles was his gift of teaching. Miles would seldom give musicians a complete answer when they questioned him about something musical. His strategy was to let the musicians learn by themselves or with the band. Hancock now a veteran performer and teacher himself says that when you learn something on your own you remember it better. The lesson becomes lasting.
Herbie Hancock in concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What managers can learn from these stories is that young performers, or those new to a team, need to be given a certain amount of leeway to show what they can do. This of course is after you have recruited and trained them. Some may be more independent than others but all benefit when the boss steps away.
Furthermore if the boss is always hanging around, looking over their shoulder, he or she may undermine the employee’s confidence. Or because the boss is present may set himself up as the hands-on tutor ready, willing and able to answer all questions. Support is good; “hovering” is limiting.