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From Doing to Directing: How to Make the Switch

“From Doing to Directing: How to Make the Switch”

Very often, especially in small companies, supervisors are "brought up through the ranks" with little training or direction in terms of how to be a good supervisor.

Very often, especially in small companies, supervisors are "brought up through the ranks" with little training or direction in terms of how to be a good supervisor. This can be a major problem as these new managers find themselves faced with complex people problems that they don’t know how to handle. Even business owners must grapple with the adjustment from doing things themselves to apportioning out work to skilled employees.


Most people start their own businesses for primarily two reasons: they want to direct their own future and they enjoy what they do. The paradox occurs when, as a new business owner, you find yourself doing less of the things you enjoyed and assuming new roles as manager, financier, negotiator, etc. The transition is a difficult one to make and one that few business owners weather without a few problems along the way.

The same thing often occurs when you promote someone who has proven to be a valuable employee into a managerial role. That person, while quite capable in the old position, may now have a difficult time handling this transition. Whether you’re learning to be a better director yourself, or helping a recently promoted employee deal with his or her new role, the following five guidelines can help make the transition a smooth one.

As a business owner, you need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses so that when you hire people to support you, you can make sure they have strengths that will fill gaps and lack weaknesses that you won’t be able to compensate for. One of the biggest challenges of moving to a position of direction is avoiding the propensity to fall back into old habits. Particularly during stressful times, it can be comforting to immerse yourself in old, safe activities — activities that you know you’re capable of. Remember, though, these activities are no longer your responsibility. You have a new role to fill.

The key to being a successful director is having good people to direct. If you’re responsible for hiring, make sure you hire the best. Make sure the people on your staff have strengths that you need to move ahead. If you’re promoted to a position where you already have a staff in place, spend some time examining the skills of these people. If they are lacking in certain areas where you need assistance, provide additional training so they can gain these critical skills.

A common problem for new managers could be referred to as "protective hiring." You’re not confident enough of your own skills to take the risk of hiring a "hot shot" who might someday take your job. This is a dangerous position to take. Remember, if your employees don’t look good, you don’t look good. Always hire the best people available to you. There is no such thing as an overqualified job candidate, if he or she wants the position.

Delegating is a critical part of becoming a successful director. Effective delegation allows your company and your employees to grow. It also frees up your time to do the things you should be doing in your role as director.

Initial attempts at delegation are often difficult for two reasons. You’re afraid the job won’t be done as quickly as you could do it, or you’re afraid the job won’t be done as well as you could do it. You’re right on both counts. But, by not allowing employees the opportunity to fail, they won’t learn. They will never develop the skills that will help them be effective on the job. And you’ll continue to spend your time in activities that keep you — and your company — stagnant.

Obviously, when you initially delegate a task, it won’t be done as efficiently as you could have done it. Efficiency comes through experience. Allow your employees the opportunity to gain that experience. The job may also not be done the same way you would have done it. Don’t get caught up in procedure. It’s not the methods used that matter — it’s the results.


Trust is critical when you’re trying to pull people together to do a job, and it goes beyond "lip service." Telling your employees that you trust them and demonstrating that you do are two different things. Trust means that you will continue to give employees more responsibility and the accountability that goes along with it. It means that you will allow — even expect — them to make mistakes. It means that you will understand that employees want to do good work and that you will give them the tools and techniques they need to do just that.

Trust is an important element in employee development and in your development as a business owner. If you can’t trust an employee to do a job right, you won’t delegate. If you don’t delegate, you can’t direct. It’s as simple as that.

You will sometimes be faced with employees who are incapable of doing what needs to be done. If that happens, your responsibility to the organization and to that employee is to show them the way to the door so they can find employment elsewhere.

It is the job of your staff to worry about the details of getting a job done. They must deliberate over small techniques, devise ways of monitoring day-to-day activities and deal with the inherent crises along the way. Directors are "big picture" people. You must be concerned not so much with the day-to-day operation of your work group, but how those operations fit into and affect the rest of the organization and the organization’s goals. Beyond that, you must help your employees understand these larger issues as well. The more you can help them understand the big picture, the better able you will be to direct their efforts.

Not everybody is cut out to be a director — some simply like to "do." For example, when Debra was promoted to assistant manager of a graphic design department, she accepted the responsibility, but soon grew to regret it. She didn’t enjoy disciplining her former peers or being mired down in the paperwork of managing, and she missed her old days of "doing." What did she do? She resigned her position and resumed her responsibilities as a designer.

When you own your own company, obviously a certain amount of directing will be a necessity. However, you don’t have to be tied down by paperwork and procedure. You can hire professional managers to run your business while you enjoy some of the old technical aspects of the company that brought you to entrepreneurship in the first place. Upward mobility isn’t for everybody, but every company needs good employees — directors and doers.

About the Writer: Lin Grensing-Pophal is a management and communications consultant in Wisconsin. She is the author of Motivating Today’s Employees: When the Carrot Can’t Always Be Cash and A Small Business Guide to Employee Selection, both published by Self-Counsel Press.

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