In “The Lord of the Rings”, the great work of fantasy literature by J.R.R. Tolkien, the villain Sauron has one fatal flaw. This flaw brings about his ruination. Sauron does not trust his minions to act independently of him and so must direct everything they do. The problem is he can only turn his “Eye” – basically his attention – to one direction at a time. If he is looking in your direction, the full weight of his power come down on you. If he is looking elsewhere, he barely notices you. In the end, because his attention is not where it should be, the heroes are able to accomplish their quest and Sauron is overthrown.
Too often, managers act this way. They do not trust their people to act independently. If the manager’s attention is on you, you feel the full force of their gaze. If not, you are left adrift.
At first, it might seem advantageous to have the attention of a manager, perhaps even the CEO. It is but not when it’s solely on one group. No one can operate effectively when they are placed under the microscope. Knowing that every thing they do is being scrutinized makes team members nervous. It signals to others that the group can’t be trusted since they are not being treated like they are trusted. Under this type of intense attention, group members spend most of their time trying to find ways to please the manager or move “the Eye” in a different direction. All the while, the rest of the team is not getting the attention it needs and deserves.
This is common in companies run by entrepreneurs. By nature, many successful entrepreneurs like control. They also think that they have more to give than anyone else. And more to lose as well. Both of these situations are true to some extent. As successful founders they have learned many lessons and have much of their own net worth tied up in the venture.
Entrepreneurs are also builders and fixers. This becomes a big problem when coupled with the Sauron style of management. Nothing the team does is good enough, everything must be fixed. Plans, experience, standards, other points of view, none of these apply anymore and it is frustrating to the team.
Unfortunately, this management style denigrates the unique experiences that others bring to the company. It makes productive and successful people leave for places where they perceive they are more appreciated. It allows disaster to occur because of inattention to other parts of the company and because the manager is diving into tactical details instead of driving strategy.
I worked at a company like this. It was often a difficult place to work. When the CEO was paying attention to your department, everything was harder to do. You had to justify every action, no matter how small. You literally had to plan for interference in low level details. At the same time, you knew other things were slipping because “the Eye” was on you and not on others. Ultimately, many of the best people left or were poached. Often the company seemed to careen from crisis to crisis. A lot of time was spent insuring that the CEO was paying attention to anyone else but you.
As a manager, you have to be mindful of the tendency to place all of your attention on one part of your team. Instead, you have to show them that you trust them enough to carry out the plan but be around just enough to provide guidance when things are not going right. Place some under the microscope and you will only make them upset and frustrated. everyone else will be starved for attention. Your team members will spend time – time better spent on making products and generating revenue – trying to divert your gaze toward someone else. They will focus on you and not on the business.
Like Sauron, this will be your ruin. Sooner or later your attention will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and it will be too late. By then you will have destroyed your team and perhaps your business. Instead, learn to detect when your “Eye” is lingering too long in one place. Ask yourself “Don’t I have other things to attend to?” Avoid the trap that “the Eye” lays for you.