Recently a young manager was relating to me the “saving grace” quality of having his “Go-To” guy to rely on in a pinch. It brought a smile to my face and some found memories of my own.
If you have managed for a reasonable period of time, you probably know exactly what he and I mean when we refer to a “Go-To” person. They are every manager’s dream when facing an ad hoc problem or critical task.
Go-To people are those you can task with just about anything, give them only the most general set of guidelines, include a deadline, then walk away being absolutely certain that the job will get done, on time, and that the result will be exactly what you had in mind. The Go-To person will figure things out on their own, ask you only necessary questions, and require very little guidance or oversight. That is precisely why most managers love the Go-To subordinate and consequently go to them frequently in a pinch.
While I am certainly not about to disparage this practice — one I practiced often during my own management career — over the years I came to appreciate the potential downsides of an over reliance on one or two subordinates to undertake a large number of special and important tasks. There will be situations where the Go-To subordinate is precisely the right choice for a challenging undertaking, but the best managers learn to weigh carefully the following four considerations in making such decisions.
First, I have been told by any number of individuals who have been considered the Go-To type that they considered all the extra assignments a burden and valuable time away from their regular, often demanding work. Why, some of them wondered, didn’t their boss seem to understand that? Managing how an individual might interpret or misinterpret an assignment decision is never easy but it should be a consideration when the frequency of such assignments for a specific individual is involved.
Second, over reliance on a single individual for ad hoc and really important assignments can easily be interpreted as favoritism by the rest of your subordinates. And once a manager is tagged as someone who “plays favorites”, this perception is difficult to erase. Which of your subordinates gets to do what is one of the most important set of decisions any manager must make; matching talent and task in an ever-changing work environment. The more even-handed you seem in making these decisions the better.
Third, over reliance on a single individual for special tasks can easily blind you to the talents and potential contributions of others under your charge. The best managers never forget that their job is to get the best out of everybody entrusted to their management skill and consequently, seek to avoid habits that potentially frustrate that aim. The more you test all your subordinates against challenging undertakings, the more you learn about what they can and can’t do. Armed with that knowledge, it is easier to find the right fit for each of them.
Finally, over reliance on a single individual can leave you in the lurch when they depart. Go-To subordinates invariably possess a range of talents and skills that render them upwardly mobile and much in demand. In short, they tend to move on. The best managers always think ahead and do their best to be prepared to fill talent gaps when they occur.
So, if you are lucky enough to have a Go-To subordinate to rely on in a pinch, by all means take advantage of that gift when required. But do so with thought, consideration, and the bigger picture constantly in mind.