So far in this leadership series we’ve covered five managerial pitfalls, any of which can trip a manager up. Now we come to the next management challenge; where to draw the line between business and social relationships. Whilst in one sense it can appear deceptively simple, this issue tests our emotional maturity, and our mental toughness. No one ever said management was supposed to be easy!
So often managers want to be an employee's buddy out of work hours, then attempt to manage them in the work environment, and the employee will not allow it. It’s an either-or situation: be the buddy or the manager. Successful hybrids don’t exist in such a situation. As a guide to your employee-manager relations, think of this: Never do anything with an employee that you wouldn’t do with your company's number one customer. In other words, if management is not circumspect in its actions with employees it’s because we don’t respect them. And if we don’t respect them, they certainly will not and cannot respect us.
Management Trouble Spots
No matter how fiercely independent any of us are, we all want friends and all need a few close ones. However, we sometimes need to work hard at resisting the temptation to seek out those friendships with the people we manage. We need to be wary of the problems and consequences that friendships at work can create, so let’s explore why.
As a critical management rule, managers should never be more concerned about an individual’s success or failure than they are; their success or failure is their responsibility, not the manager’s. So what’s the management (and life) lesson here: You can’t be responsible for people; however, by necessity, you must be responsible to people. When managers (usually unconsciously) fall into this trap of becoming responsible for people, they overstep their managerial boundaries and adopt people.
This was perhaps the single most difficult management lesson one of our managers, Steve, had to learn. It impacted him through an experience he had with Frank, a salesperson he directly managed. Frank had been reasonably successful but his productivity took a nosedive and he was no longer producing at the minimum levels required by the company. Steve discussed the situation with Frank and clearly communicated to him that his sales production must increase. To assist him, consistent with company standards, he was placed in a personal improvement program for retraining. Still no results. Company policy was clear. Frank should be terminated, and it was Steve’s responsibility to do so. He couldn‘t do it. The man had five children and Steve knew that the economic opportunities for him in the company were far greater than those available anywhere else, because of his age and the state of the economy. Whenever he thought of terminating him, he thought of the children and backed off.
Finally, during a field visit in his territory to conduct a workshop, Frank approached Steve at the first break and said, "I've got something I need to tell you!" and asked if they could meet after the morning session. What do think Steve thought? He hoped Frank was going to do his job for him and quit! So they get together over lunch but Frank totally avoids the issue he needs to discuss. In near desperation over his third cup of coffee, Steve says, "You said you had something to tell me. What is it?" He responded, "Steve, it's so difficult." Probing for the resignation, Steve tells him, "Buddy, you can tell me anything." With that, Frank sheepishly said, "Steve, I've fallen in love. I'm leaving my wife and kids!" At that moment Steve recognised that he felt more concern for this man’s children than their father did.
But they were his responsibility, not Steve’s, and consequently Steve failed this man miserably, he failed the company, and he failed his wife and children because he attempted to become responsible for him. He was reparenting a fifty-five-year-old man and failed to treat him as an adult. Had Steve been responsible to him rather than for him, if he had respected him enough to treat him as an adult when he failed to do the job that was expected of him, if Steve had done his job and terminated him and let him handle his own responsibility of supporting his family, the man would not have had time to fall in love. You simply cannot help people who will not help themselves.
No one ever said management was easy. If it were, then anyone could do it, and management would not receive remuneration in excess of that paid to employees. Managing can often become a painful experience, and you may incur pain while developing the mental toughness required by the job. Managers not only have to make tough decisions regarding employees, the toughest decisions affect their personal discipline and sometimes their families.
There is a rule we have to live by to manage effectively. It may not sound palatable, but it sums it all up succinctly: To manage effectively you cannot put the welfare of any individual above the welfare of the organisation. Everyone who manages effectively lives by this rule, and sometimes it hurts.
In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #7 "Failure to measure performance".
Posted: 10/11/2012 5:25:36 AM
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One of the interesting aspects of working with many client managers is hearing how they’ve experienced or observed the Major Mistakes Managers Make. One such manager described this fatal error (concentrating on problems not objectives) to us as follows: "One reason for the lack of effectiveness on the part of so many managers is that they major on minors." When we asked him what he meant, he said he had observed many managers spending as much as 90 percent of their time dealing with problems that only influence 10 percent of their productivity. In many instances, they become so involved with problems that they totally lose sight of their objectives.
Turning Problems into Opportunities
Managers will often approach us seeking a personal conversation. Given a supposedly sympathetic ear, we find very few talk about their objectives or goals. Almost invariably they’ll concentrate on problems, so it seems that managers could use some tools to help them avoid this flaw.
A number of years ago we consulted with a company that recognised this failing of management. In response they attempted to eliminate the word problem from the vocabulary of their managers by having them referred to as opportunities. We found it fascinating to participate in their management meetings and hear managers say, "I'm faced with an opportunity I'm having difficulty solving." They may have changed their vocabulary, but they didn't have the tools to eliminate the fatal error. One of their managers revealed the futility of this exercise when he described his attitude to a new marketing approach by quoting Pogo. He said: 'We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity."
We call the opposite of concentrating on our problems and losing sight of our objectives "creativity." Creativity fails us when we become absorbed in problems and ignore the end results we want to obtain. Creativity dies, or at least withers, until we shift our attention back to our objective. In our opinion creativity in business can best be defined as "the ability to understand the forces impacting upon us, and being able to utilise those forces as a means of reaching our objective." More simply stated, it means ‘the ability to understand your business environment and conditions and to use these to your advantage’. The very issues and circumstances that first appear as roadblocks to our success can often be used as levers that make success a reality.
To achieve this we must first stop dissipating our energy on being obsessed with our problems, and fighting the environment or situation. Far too many managers act like they are total ‘non-swimmers’. If you put a non-swimmer in a boat, take them a kilometre offshore and toss them in the water, what will they do? Certainly they will try to swim, but in their panic, they will fight the water. The more they thrash about, the more they fight the water, the faster they dissipate their energy, and the faster they drown. Put a competent swimmer in the same situation and they will do something quite different. First, they’ll relax, float and tread water. In treading water, the expert swimmer is using the environment, using the conditions to sustain themselves. Next, they set an objective, the shoreline, as a destination; then at a reasonable pace, keeping their shoreline objective in sight, they swim to shore. Throughout the entire process, they use the water (their environment) as the means of achieving their desired result. Whenever we abandon or lose sight of our objective, we begin to drown, because we’re killing our creativity.
Why do we do this? Our educational system has conditioned us to view any situation that might disrupt our plans as a threat. For the most part, when we were in school we were taught that we must have a "right answer"; this conditioned us to develop a ‘one-answer mentality’. That may be true in mathematics; however in the business world, things are more variable. There is always more than one way ‘to skin a cat’. When we have a set of objectives and we’ve developed a plan, the factors that may interfere with its achievement can disturb or frighten us, because we can see the right answer (our plan) ‘running off the rails’. French philosopher Emile Cartier described the danger in our one-right-answer approach when he said, "Nothing is as dangerous as an idea, if you have only one."
Creative managers versus those who fall into the trap of concentrating on their problems think differently when challenged. Faced with a roadblock, the problem-obsessed manager asks the question "what?" "What will happen to me if I fail?" The creative manager, on the other hand, asks the question "how?" "How can I use this situation or condition to my advantage?" The very use of the question "how?" presupposes success, and that the objective will be reached.
The need for creativity runs through every segment of business. Management is essentially a thinking, not a doing job. The lifeblood of every business lies in ideas and creative thinking. Just look at Apple as an instructive example! Truly successful managers not only learn to view the environment as the vehicle for reaching their objectives; they train their people, their team, to share this creative perspective.
In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #6 "Being a buddy, not the boss".
Posted: 8/30/2012 12:55:45 AM
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In part one of this series we said that when managers fail to lead effectively it’s not because they can’t master numbers, but because they try to master people or attempt to manipulate them. As a result, one of the traps managers fall prey to in this area is when they try to manage everyone on their team the same way or attempt to manage them as a group. It doesn’t work. Effective managers, understanding the essential differences between the people on their team, and being aware of their strengths and weaknesses, manage them as individuals. All good management is essentially one-on-one.
Managing people as a group is a weak management style but if this approach is so ineffective, why do so many managers try it? Some are simply lazy and being unwilling to take the time to do their jobs properly, attempt to do a week's worth of work during a staff meeting. They don’t fool their staff for a second. Others have never mastered the basic skill of looking another person in the eyes and simply saying what's on their minds. For them the back wall of the meeting room is the focus of their management effort. Still others see the staff meeting as an expression of power and attack people on issues that should be handled one-on-one. When we let our ego get out in front of us, we have a tendency to attack people and in doing so, we fail them…..and ourselves.
Wise managers make the effort to get with their people one-to-one when dealing with specific problems or issues. They also remain highly ‘aware’ and available. When employees are angry, dejected or tense, they pick up on that and steer them somewhere they’re able to talk in private. You will have scores of opportunities to help the people who depend on you if you remember that you were hired to manage people, and achieve results through them!
We occasionally hear a frustrated manager declare a particular person a lost cause when they don’t respond in the same way another did to a particular technique or approach. But a technique that serves you well with one individual may be useless when used with another so good management also involves selection as well as application.
All effective managers use a mix of different managerial styles or approaches, varying them to match the employee's needs, emotions or the situation. What they’ve discovered is that there’s no right or wrong way to manage! If it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad. Let’s take a look at four different approaches used by effective managers.
When a manager uses Autocratic Management as a style and says "Do it this way, I said so'', this manager is drawing on self-strength. Two factors determine whether or not autocratic management is appropriate; the circumstances and who is being managed. There are times when this is the only way to deal with a situation. When the bullets are flying, or the building is on fire, you don’t call a meeting; someone takes charge and tells people what to do. Remember, no right or wrong way to manage. If it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad!
Managers using Bureaucratic Management are managing by the the rule book. Because we often overwork bureaucratic management, many of us don’t look at company policy as a tool; instead we use it as a weapon to force people into submission. However there are some employees who not only want bureaucratic management, they want it in abundance for the satisfaction they curiously receive from regimentation. Remember, no right or wrong. If it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad!
A third management style, Democratic Management, doesn’t mean letting people vote. When we let the team vote, when we let employees make management decisions, that's not democratic management, that’s an abdication of our responsibilities. With democratic management what we’re really looking to do is let people participate in the decision-making process by seeking and discussing their feedback, ideas and opinions.
The last style we’ll discuss is Idiosyncratic Management. This is really misnamed because all good management is idiosyncratic, because all good management is one-to-one and attuned to the individual. When we use the term idiosyncratic management, we’re referring to the extremes of personality, extremes that are literally idiosyncrasies.
To avoid the trap of managing everyone the same, remember…..no right or wrong, if it works it’s good, if it doesn’t work it’s bad! and you need to know your employees as well as you know your family so use an approach that works with each individual.
In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #5 "Concentrating on problems not objectives".
Posted: 8/1/2012 2:55:24 AM
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So far in this series we’ve covered two managerial pitfalls, ‘Failure to Accept Personal Accountability’ and ‘Having a We/They Attitude’, both of which have proven they can trip a manager up. Now we come to probably the single most evasive challenge for all managers; namely the importance of managing ourselves and the consequences when we don’t. Managing others demands self-discipline; if you can’t manage yourself, you’ll never manage anyone else effectively.
So in talking about this failure to manage ourselves, what we mean is we fail to manage our emotional and psychological needs. This failure impacts in a lot of different ways, the most prevalent of which is time pressure!
The activity trap and our need to be needed
Most managers we meet are under intense time pressure and the reason they are is because all of us in management must deal with several different types of time. All of us have a job to do; specific activities we need to engage in that take a certain amount of what we term ‘job-imposed time’. The second type of time is ‘boss-imposed time’; that time imposed on us by the person that manages us (external forces are included in this). We can have our day planned to perfection but the reality is there’s always someone or something that can come out of the woodwork and dictate activities to us, even if you’re the CEO or the Chairman….and that’s life, that’s business!
The third type of time is ‘creative time’, that time spent thinking, learning and planning where you are, where you’re going and how to get there. Every forward thinking manager recognises that what they need more of is creative time, because management is essentially a thinking, not a doing, job. Most of us will admit however it’s the type of time we have the least of. So we’re going to lose some of our time to job and boss imposed activities but the vast majority of managers’ time is lost to the fourth type of time, which we call ‘subordinate-imposed time’; that time imposed on us, unnecessarily, by the people we manage.
Have you ever had this experience? At some point, maybe on a Friday afternoon, you woke up and said to yourself “I’m not running this operation, it’s running me!” “I’m not managing these people, they’re managing me!” “I’m going to get back in control of my life!” So over the weekend you figured out your priorities, graded all of your activities and put a plan together. By Monday you were on the job and you were set, you just felt a greater sense of purpose and anticipation than you’d had for a long time; you were in command of your life. One of your people comes to you and says, "Boss, am I glad we caught up, do we have a problem." Now like all the problems they’re kind and gracious enough to bring to us we know enough to immediately get involved but not enough to give an answer so we say, "I’m glad you brought that up, I'll get back with you later today."
What just happened? Before the interaction, who had the problem? They did! After it who had the problem? You did! We recommend to you, the minute you hear anything that sounds like “we have a problem” you imagine a monkey sitting right on their back, its little hairy legs curl right down round their neck. Now that monkey is looking for a place to go. Listen to them, counsel them, guide them but make sure when you’re done that they take their monkey with them. If you don’t, and you manage say 6 people, each of them will be kind enough to give you a monkey a day. That's 30 monkeys a week, 130 monkeys a month, in 6 weeks you’re running a zoo!
Too many of us are running zoos, and we’re running zoos for a reason. We’ve acquired an inverted view as to how problems should be handled in a business. Too many of us believe that problems should be passed up the line, but nothing could be further from the truth. In businesses that operate effectively, problems are passed down the line. For us, most of the issues and problems our people bring to us are nothing more than time consuming detail, but for them they’re an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to learn.
So why do we do it, often unconsciously? Simply, we need to feel needed….and it’s that part of our human make up that we have to ensure we manage, if we’re to manage effectively. Are there problems that the team will have that managers should solve; absolutely? These are the unique ones; the gorillas, the challenging ones that couldn’t have been anticipated that demand our expertise and experience. However denying a subordinate the experience of solving their own problems denies them the opportunity for growth and, when we do that, we fail them!
So when you call your office at 9:30 on day one of a planned two-day absence, what you’re really saying is, ‘I don't think you can function without me’. And your employees' opinions of themselves can become as low as they perceive yours to be.
Managers who are unable to conquer this need for affection never build strong productive people; consequently, their teams remain weak and you cannot build a strong team and a strong business on weak individuals. The purpose of management and leadership is to build an entity that can function in our absence and so the test for every manager becomes not what we can do, but rather what can our people can do without us.
In our fifth post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #4 “Managing everyone the same way".
Posted: 7/11/2012 12:59:31 AM
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In working with the many managers that The Fortune Group has served throughout the world, one of the key danger signs we listen out for is the pronouns a manager uses. When speaking about any part of the organisation there should literally be only one and that’s the pronoun ‘we’. There should never be a ‘they’. But if a manager is to use a they, then they, by necessity, must be the people they manage. Anytime a manager refers to senior management as they, they're not even mentally affiliating with management and do not see themselves as part of the management team. Consequently, this attitude manifests itself by driving a wedge between employees and the senior leadership of the organisation, killing people’s belief in its integrity and what it stands for. It’s the 2nd on our list of major mistakes managers make.
This we/they attitude doesn’t only occur between levels of management, it also occurs between divisions and/or between functions such as sales and finance, marketing and supply chain or finance and production. In these situations, management and the people they manage have been ‘allowed’ or indeed ‘encouraged’ to develop greater loyalty or attachment to their part of the organisation than they have to the organisation as a whole…..a result of poor leadership.
This also has the effect of destroying people’s belief in senior management and what the organisation is striving to achieve. It’s a significant waste of people’s energy and intellectual horsepower, and reduces their productivity.
Attitudes in any company are highly contagious, they’re like a virus, and they can be deadly!
You can avoid Major Mistake #2, Having a We/They Attitude, by making sure that you and your team develop and maintain healthy attitudes. In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #3 “Failure to Manage Ourselves".
Posted: 6/18/2012 7:52:14 AM
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