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As Dr. W. Edwards Deming famously said, "Don't just do something - stand there!"

He argued there are times when managers are just tampering with a system by overmanaging things... this can actually increase variability in a system and hurt quality or other system performance.

But we all feel tempted by the idea that it's better to do something than nothing... but not always.

Kare Christine Anderson

I, too, am a fan of Keith’s book:
1. Be clear about your top goal for your group, whether it is a team or a whole organization. 
2. Step into the shoes of those you lead, assume the best and provide them with the resources they need to succeed
3. THEN get out of their way, except when your orchestration is needed.

That seems simply yet, as I, and probably you, have experienced, first hand, it is remarkably rare. That’s why Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management professor, J Keith Murnigham in his book, Do Nothing! lays out a rationale and road map to move away from micro-managing to “leading, facilitating and orchestrating.” Not surprisingly Keith is a fan of Carol Dweck’s advocacy of a growth Mindset – a book I heartily recommend.

I agree with much of the common sense, general advice in his book, such as “doing too much is far worse than doing too little,” yet in business as in art, it is often a matter of exactly where you draw the line.

He writes, “When things are really clicking, work will be like the performance of a great Beethoven symphony, with the notes in the right place, the crescendos coming on time, and at the end, a feeling of exhilaration at your collective accomplishments.” I also know that feeling, first hand, when at the Wall Street Journal, with a beloved bureau chief who seemed to know how to bring out the unique talents of each of us, and when to have a tight rein and when to let it loose.


I am making this comment without having read this book, but based on your description I want to say that the need most managers have to do anything, just because they need to justify their existence, is a huge problem. The reality is that most managers have very little control over the work that is done under them and many overcompensate with controlling, neurotic behavior. The worst is when a new manger is hired into the company it is inevitable that they are going to make big changes to justify their hire, even if the changes aren't helpful and make no sense. I'd like to think that this 'do nothing' approach would catch on, but I think that I hope in vain.

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