Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of sitting on both sides of the management desk. I’ve managed a lot of people and in the process, mismanaged some of them. I’d like to think I’ve learned from some of my mistakes.
On the flipside, I’ve been managed and mismanaged by quite a few bosses. I attribute much of my success on the fact that I’ve been managed a lot more than I’ve been mismanaged. I’m not sure which I’ve learned the most from.
I have learned that in the majority of times, when management failure occurs, it roots from one of two fundamental reasons.
The two management challenges
Knowing when not to manage. In the early industrial days, there were managers and laborers. The managers were trained or skilled to make decisions and to bark out orders. Laborers may or may not have had a skill, but did what they were told to do. It was basically a subservient role.
As we moved into a knowledge economy, the roles of worker and manager changed significantly. Most workers today are not just laborers, but intelligent, educated decision makers. Managers are in a role of viewing things more strategically. A good manager realizes that she doesn’t necessarily know more than her employee. She simply knows different things and is responsible for different things.
As such, a modern manager has two primary roles:
- Provide the team with direction from a strategic view. When issues arise, provide information on how to proceed from the high-level perspective.
- Remove obstacles that her employees cannot remove. This could include facilitating a decision from a high-level executive or hunting down information when the employee doesn’t have time to do it himself.
Knowing how to adjust your management style to the individual.
My wife is an 8th grade math teacher and has often talked about how she adjusts her teaching approach based on how the student learns. Everyone learns a little differently and she tries to modify her approach to optimize each student’s learning. My son’s 8th grade math teacher only taught one way – his way. As a result, my son had trouble learning from him. Fortunately, his mother knew the material.
Managing people is no different. Just as people learn differently, how we interpret directions and interact with people can be individually unique.
The study of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) has identified that people learn and interact in one of three different ways. Some people are visually oriented and learn best based on what they see. Providing visual people with a diagram of a process flow will help them to best understand a complicated process. When soliciting feedback, it is more effective to ask questions like ‘How does this look to you?’
Other people are auditory. Auditory people are more likely to understand things based on what they hear. You may provide them a process flow diagram, but they wouldn’t understand it clearly until someone sits down and talks them through it. To verify whether they understand it, a question like “How does that sound to you?” may be more effective.
Finally, there are kinesthetic people. Kinesthetic people interpret information based on their feelings. When explaining concepts to them, it’s most effective to base it on how they feel. When describing a process, Questions like “How do you feel about this?” will work best with them.
Everybody uses all three of these approaches, but most people are dominant in one. Effective managers listen and observe their team members to find out which approach they are more comfortable with. They then adjust their management approach and communication style to best fit that person’s learning orientation.
My-way-or-the-highway management approaches are far out of date. And the days of employees being directed on every task have expired as well. It turns out that we DO pay employees to think. Modern day managers must determine how to manage modern day employees if they want to achieve success in the modern age.
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As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.