Management Flexibility: That’s Not How I’d Do It

management flexibility
Management flexibility

There is an age-old debate about how the toilet paper should roll for most efficient dispensing.  One school of thought says the paper should roll up from the bottom while the other says it should roll down from the top.

I intentionally ignore how the roll is configured when I replace it. Theoretically, I get it from the top 50% of the time and from the bottom the same amount of time.  I have never once had trouble unrolling this bathroom essential, regardless from where it unrolls.

My theory is that the big debate is about control.  It’s no easier to unroll toilet paper one way or the other.  But people develop a comfort with one of the ways.  And in the process, they convince themselves that if that’s how they like it, that’s how everybody should like it. (Author’s note: Anyone that provides a comment debating how the TP should roll will not have their comment published.)

Very little management flexibility

I once took over the role of project manager for another project manager who was leaving the company.  I had a two-week transition period in which he was to perform knowledge transfer on the project.  I had a lot of questions the first few days, but within a week I had figured things out. Once I was up to speed, I had some ideas for how I’d like to manage the project.  But it seemed that every time I verbalized what I intended to do, my out-going peer would reply with “That’s not how I’d do it.”

The first few times I heard it, it was just an annoyance.  But the more he corrected me with rather subtle differences in approach, the more I wanted to cut him loose early before I seriously hurt the guy. He didn’t have management flexibility.

I practiced patience, knowing he would soon be gone.  And once I was free of his rigidity, I was free to run things the way I wanted.  And the project ended successfully.

Practicing management flexibility

People develop habits and routines.  Whether it’s the route they take to work or the way they like a certain meal prepared.  If someone does it differently, some people think it’s just plain wrong. “Why did you take this road into town?  That’s not the way I go.”

We see this with managers every day.  Not only am I going to assign you this task, I’m going to tell you how you should do it.

What if the employee came up with a better or more creative way to do the task?

“It would be wrong, that’s what.”

Some managers think they got to that position because they are the only ones who know how to do things. “If you do it differently than me, you must certainly be wrong.”

Some managers think they’re being flexible if they avoid correcting their team members.  A gentle little “that’s not how I’d do it” will certainly nudge the wrong-doer in the right direction.

See my related post: Unnecessary Anxiety

It’s often hard for new managers to let go of details.  That’s understandable when they are first making that transition.  But experienced managers often continue to dictate how tasks should be done.

Good leadership allows people to make mistakes.  It’s one of the best ways to learn.  A good manager knows just how much rope to give someone to let them learn a lesson, without fouling up an entire project.  Mistakes are good.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

To those managers out there who want to avoid letting anyone make a mistake, that’s not how I’d do it. 

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