If you’re in a position of authority, chances are you need to stop doing what you’re doing. Yes, well-read, wide-eyed golden child, this means you. You may be good at your job, but you probably suck as a manager. There, I said it. Let’s hope you do something about it.
Moliere is attributed with the artful phrase:
“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”
These days, I’m thinking about how this nugget – doing and not doing – applies to business, building a strong pervasive culture, and empowering well-intentioned passionate people. I’m not a human resources or recruiting professional by any stretch, but it’s clear to me how top-down methods, values, and management styles affect subjective and frequently minimized issues like employee satisfaction, career aspirations, and general life outlook. If you think this is just “soft fuzzy stuff,” that doesn’t have a wit to do with the bottom line, just wait up a minute. You can go buy your first clue over at Sametz Blackstone Assoc. by reading Tamsen McMahon’s post covering real-world management lessons.
“…people are at the heart of any change. To make change happen, you have to have people who can make change happen.” To which I add you need to have people you inspire to pursue change. And you need to have people who believe you’ll support their methods and defend the outcomes.
If you have the mentality of “They get a paycheck, a darn good one, too. They better be doing a great job!” you’ve adopted a serf-and-lord mentality that only serves to keep people in check, where they belong, performing rote tasks without hope. Yes, people should meet the expectations of the role they hold – but if, as a boss, what you really want is innovative calculated risk-takers who think about your business in the middle of the night and Saturday afternoons, then you have to really ask yourself – better yet, ask a management coach – if you’re limiting their outcomes through your own shortcomings.
Shut Up When I’m Talking To You
Adam Singer draws a line between insufferable omnipotent people of power and confidence-inspiring stalwart leaders as he explores marketing and bureaucracy. His point, as I interpret it, is businesses that empower (support) talented, creative people lay the groundwork for success because by allowing employees to explore options, push conventions, and take educated risks, the company is building an emotional bond with its most valuable assets. Trust that the people you’ve hired want to achieve – even exceed – goals and they will.
But you say, “It’s not their department/company. It’s my department/company. Why would they care about it like I do? No one cares as much as I do. I have to look out for things, I’m accountable. It needs to be done my way or there’s too much risk.” Baloney. Give people more credit than that.
Your way is based on your personal world view, and the cynical and disparaging notion that others can’t cogitate as good as you can. Granted, your world view and talents have served you well, but are you so arrogant as to think yours is the only path to achievement? Enter clue number two, from Bnet – rob people of their passion and their ownership enough times and you’ll end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy and a cube farm full of drones. They learned there’s no point in surfacing ideas or ardently defending recommendations. You’ll have to continue doing things your way.
At the most basic level, employees depend on you. You’re the boss, after all. But don’t over-simplify or obfusicate the issue. Most of us really want more out of life than routine tasks and “Satisfactory” evaluations. We’re looking for inspiration, for the people and the opportunities that make the daily grind something of personal choice and a source of pride over practical necessity. We want to succeed and make the boss – the one which encourages our ideas – proud. Can you honestly you’re creating a nurturing environment? Or just giving it lip service or a token gesture?
Slippery When Wet
Perhaps this issue of autocratism – trust – was best addressed by a lady sporting tight buns:
“The more you tighten your grip [Tarkin] the more [star systems] will slip through your fingers,” prophetized by Princess Leia in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).
Best of You
The point? Let go. Trust that they’ll do what it takes to do a good job. Give them permission to flounder, even fail. And trust that if they miss the mark, despite their best efforts, it will matter as much to them as it does to you. And next time will rock.
“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” –Benjamin Disraeli
Alright, so I’m using humor, pop culture, and music trivia to help illustrate my points about leadership and management. Some of you may deem my approach sophomoric, and I’m okay with that. Why? We all have gifts. I think one of mine is taking seemingly disparate bits, weaving them together, and coming up with something new. You may get it, you may not. S’okay, it takes all kinds, right?
In any case, I hope that if you’re a manager you’re now holding that mirror up a little higher and taking a long, hard look. Change can start with you, and it can start today. Serve the needs of others through your leadership. Be open, allow yourself to become vulnerable, and you may be surprised – even humbled – by those around you.
Song title credits: Seether, Linkin Park, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Tracy Chapman