Are You a Stupid Manager?

I often find myself confronted with the opposite of effective managers in my day to day doings, which never ceases to amaze me – sorry, cynicism. I personally dislike management, especially given the continuing ideas of what a manager is, (a manager recently told me that anyone can be a manager, which, as an afterthought, I saw he didn’t seem to realize what he just said about himself) and left the field several years ago. However, managers do have a difficult job and anyone – cough – that wants to be effective as a manager would do well to consider some of the following ideas.

1) Managers do things right, leaders do the right things.

More often than not, a manager takes on the role of rule enforcer extraordinaire. Granted, one of the main duties of the manager is to make sure tasks are done, done well, and done on time, but many managers get caught up in being ‘the boss’ and begin an adversarial reign of terror on those that they have been placed in authority over, all in an effort to make whatever quota that he or she is in charge of meeting.

I was once told that I was being promoted to a supervisory position at a call center because I looked ‘thuggish’. Bet you can tell what ideal that company subscribed to.

A leader, on the other hand, understands that while things need to be done, done well, and done on time, his or her job is to inspire others to meet the demands of the work, not brow beat them into submission while he sits on his laurels in his office. The leader’s role is to find an effective balance between the work and the workers, supply them with what they need, and assist them in meeting the goals of the company.

2) Manage things, not people

I don’t know how many times I have been pre-ulcerous due to one hit wonder managers. They seem to believe that people are the same as arranging paperclips in a desktop organizer. One of the more interesting – and irritating – creations on earth is system focused management. What I mean to say is that managers become blind to the fact that people are beings of variety and expect them, no, try to make them, become products of the system under which the business runs, that is planned down to the Nth degree, rather than deal with individual personalities.

While it is a fair assumption and expectation that people can be trained to do a task, be consistent at that task, and become proficient at the task, the way one person goes about it will be different than the next. Trying to create a clone army that will do everything the same over and over again is not the same as placing the right person for the right job. (That goes for management, as well.) Especially when talking about jobs that are more client or customer oriented. One of the most impressive things to me, as a customer, is when the person at the register notices that there is a buy one get one free sale on steak, tells me about it and has someone go get me another steak, rather than simply squawking out in a monotonal parrot voice, “Did you find everything okay?” or “Do you want your milk in a bag?” while he or she mechanically drags my groceries over the scanner. Encouragement from leadership goes a long way in facilitating attitudes that are not ‘procedural’.

3) When you treat employees like employees, all you get are employees.

I don’t care what business you are in, you have to deal with people on one level or another. And employees are no different. Another ineffective strategy is seeing employees as a means to an end instead of as an essential part of the process. People adjust to the environment they are in; it’s simply human nature. ‘A day’s work, for a day’s pay’ is an oft quoted idea, but it is another way of depersonalizing the people that are on the front lines. Whether a manager likes it or not, an employee has a personality, likes and dislikes, a fully functioning life outside of work with other people (hopefully), as well as relationships within the workplace. If an employee feels like he or she is just a means to an end, then he or she will probably only give just enough to keep negative attention away. Or worse. After all, it is just a job. Right?

I once knew a man who owned a security business who asked me to work for him because his turnover rate for security officers was in the ninetieth percentile and didn’t understand why. He was running himself ragged trying to cover all the vacant positions. What I found out is that he believed that those that worked for him should treat his business as he did; that they should do anything and everything to meet the demands of the client, even if it cost them personal relationships. This belief system was so pervasive that he once fired an officer on his second day of work because he got a flat tire on his way to his post, saying that tardiness was not tolerable and he should have planned accordingly. Really? He truly did not understand that he was the cause of his troubles. Needless to say, he doesn’t have a security business anymore.

A leader will understand this and work with it rather than against it. An effective ‘manager’ will get to know the people he or she works with, their working styles, temperaments, as well as their hobbies, interests and concerns. Also, he or she will develop a sense of compassion and belonging with those that he or she oversees.

4) Strong, healthy boundaries

It’s one thing to treat employees as people and have compassion for their troubles in life, but it is an entirely different story when he or she becomes a pushover to them. A leader will have a strong sense of self and maintain boundaries that are clear and defined. Normally, people tend to interpret this as being aloof and segregated from others with a tendency to depersonalize the people that they oversee, but this is not the case. Inspiring others takes a more personal approach. While forming a working relationship with an employee is beneficial, the leader ‘manager’ is still responsible for assisting the person to do their job instead of commiserating with them about how unfair things are. Sometimes, difficult decisions have to be made and followed through on. While it will be uncomfortable, sometimes downright painful, the person with strong, healthy boundaries will be able to carry through.

Firing someone can be a difficult issue, even if there is a bond there, and especially if the person has been a great employee. I once had to let go of an employee for getting inappropriately involved with a female coworker who lodged a complaint against him. He was a great guy and employee, but, as it happens with life, was suddenly thrust into a very emotionally stressful situation that he had difficulty dealing with. While on the surface, his work didn’t seem to suffer, he misread cues given to him by a seemingly supportive coworker and crossed a line that couldn’t be uncrossed. We still talk sometimes.

5) Short term gain often leads to long term pain.

This is one of the biggest problems that I see among managers. Overemphasis on process generally means short term problem solving. Coercion works . . . for a short time. Managers that threaten the jobs of the employees may get what he or she wants right then, but it leads to many more long term problems that may not be worth the short term gain. Employee absenteeism, high turnover rates, minimal work quality are only a portion of the problems that can grow out of a hostile work environment. The bottom line is “might is right” is wrong, most of the time. I consider this lazy management, as well as other behaviors such as reactive rule making and arbitrary decision making.

The effective manager will be more proactive and patient, making judgments only after consideration and will exhaust every avenue before even thinking about coercive techniques, making rules that effect everyone based on the actions of the minority, or make policy changes without discussing their ramifications with those who will be affected the most.

Every quality of an effective leader begins and ends with the person that is taking the responsibility. And contrary to what some have said, while ‘anybody’ can be a manager, only someone who works on himself and his personal development first can be an effective manager.