“My manager is….”
In our blog this week, Martin Spencer, of Vana Executive Assessment gives us his musings on management.
Try typing that into Google and see what comes up. But before you do so, hazard a guess or two. What do you think? My manager is super talented? My manager is supportive? My manager is a role model? That would be nice. The reality is somewhat different, as you may have already found out. But take it from me, you’ll get “lazy, rude, leaving, and picking on me” as the top hits. I’m reliably informed you used to also get “fancies me” as one of the top few as well but perhaps that is just a problem I’ve always had…
Anyway, the point is obvious, if not totally scientific. Let’s just suppose that the reason these things come up is that they are all too often true. Leaving out “leaving”, the 3 that remain make grim reading. I don’t want this to be a summary of my view of management competence but it does pose a few questions to me. One of them is “why?” and another is “what can be done about it?”
Here’s some thoughts on both those questions: I was deeply struck by a book printed way back in 1980 called “The One Minute Manager”. It’s since become quite well celebrated but perhaps not so well read by managers or at least not heeded because it contains so many simple lessons that anyone in management could benefit from. It’s available on Ebay by the way for under £3.00 for the next time you are sitting at an airport. The coincidence of author and my surname is just that I assure you! There are better and deeper boos out there but I’d have this in my “desert island top 10” if I ever get asked.
I’m citing it because it talks about something that I think we lack in management today, and probably in society as a whole…..the thing that it’s trendy to call “authenticity”. I do a lot of work with leaders and managers, and if I had a pound for the number of times someone said that they “seek feedback” and “try and treat people they way they want to be treated themselves” I wouldn’t be working as a psychologist. The problem is, most people don’t seem to actually want honest feedback, and they seem even more reluctant to give it. I wonder if they just don’t know how.
If we have a look at the classically perceived power imbalance between manager and subordinate, I think that’s where things start to go wrong. Managers have a starting premise that because they are “in charge” they therefore have a superior role. They don’t. They just have a different role, and they happen to be more senior in the structure chart. But they are not bigger, better, more able, more competent or anything else. What I observe happening so often in management and performance management conversations is a power based dialogue where the manager seems to assume they occupy a more superior place, and then they start moving into command and control. None of us like that.
I was recently told by my wife that I “don’t take instruction easily” which I think is feedback to the same effect, so we are all the same. But what if we could get into a mind-set that said “I am not bigger or better than you; I just have a different role” and fundamentally, “we are in this together.” My role as a manager then becomes one of an equal human being with failings and foibles just like my subordinate colleague; it’s just that I have the job of managing them that’s all.
Perhaps this could start a revolution? “My manager is authentic”? How many years I wonder till that comes up on Google? If we don’t try and change something then we’re all going to be stuck with “lazy” and the rest. That’s an indictment I don’t feel comfortable with.