The challenge of the big breakup Otis

People resist letting go but that's what good managers must learn to do, whether you are talking about programs or people. It isn't easy but it is necessary.

Adapted from the book, How to Win in the Government Market (w/Mark Amtower)

Letting go of attachments to things that no longer have value is difficult. In the personal realm, this includes dysfunctional relationships, unhealthy habits and, in my case, the compulsive need to make bad puns. When you’re a marketing, sales, capture, or line manager, or an executive, letting go takes on an even broader context because it affects not only your feelings but also your organization's success and co-workers' performance.

An effective manager realizes that allowing someone to remain in a job that doesn't fit harms that person, the other staff, and the business. Many leaders are averse to conflict and prefer to maintain a negative status quo rather than directly confront a performance issue. But problems rarely go away without some intervention. You sometimes need to let go of staff members so they can find other job opportunities better suited to their skills.

Another symptom of refusing to let go is an inability to delegate tasks which can cripple an organization, demoralize employees and, eventually, stall the manager’s career. Managers who were promoted from technical positions sometimes prefer to hide in the comfort zone of their previous responsibilities. While remaining buried in minutiae, important decisions go unattended. Letting go of technical details takes courage but is the sign of a mature leader.

People also get emotionally invested in certain design approaches, management solutions, technology projects and government new business opportunities. It can be difficult to separate enthusiasm, a positive trait, from an inability or unwillingness to objectively evaluate alternatives.

When deciding whether to proceed with a plan or not, I like to use a decision matrix that requires the major stakeholders to assess the viability of an idea or project by scoring each alternative against a set of critical success factors. If used properly, this approach can remove at least some of the raw emotions from the equation. What’s left is a more objective view of whether the return on investment justifies the costs of workforce, IT infrastructure and financial resources.

People often avoid letting go because they fear uncertainty. But, enlightened managers aren’t afraid to take calculated risks. They accept that the status quo is not a friend to be trusted for too long. As the song goes, "Breaking up is hard to do." But by doing so, a new world of opportunities awaits.

A (usually) retired but still a writer and blues musician, Mike Lisagor is the founder of Celerity Works and a co-founder of His other books include How to Develop a Winning SBIR Proposal (with Eric Adolphe), How to Win in the Government Market (with Mark Amtower), and Personal Growth During the Time of COVID. He can be reached at