I have been an observer of business managers for about 45 years. I've been a student of the species for over 30 years and a consultant to them for over 25 years. Some managers have been wonderful: respectful of their people, knowledgeable about their business, dedicated to their customers, and conveying a clear sense of direction and focus. These leaders have been a joy to work with.
Then there were others. I call them the clueless. Whatever they are tuned in to, it has little to do with leadership.
What I offer here are a few observations about the two ends of the management continuum - some comments on some of the differences between the wonderful and the clueless.
1. External Focus vs. Internal Focus
Wonderful managers keep their people focused on the world outside the organization. Their people have a deep, daily understanding of customers and their needs.
Clueless managers keep their people focused internally. Their people direct their attention upward, having a deep daily understanding of the bosses and their needs. (An employee, introducing his manager to a visitor was asked by the visitor, "Is this your superior?" "No," he replied, "This is my boss!".)
2. Regard for Others
The sincere belief of the wonderful manager is "If I'm a good manager, it is partly because I work with good people." The clueless manager sincerely believes, "If I seem inadequate as a manager, it is because I work with inadequate people."
What should we conclude from these variant beliefs? Perhaps each type of manager - somehow or other - attracts very different subspecies of the human workforce. Or perhaps the wonderful manager has learned how to help ordinary people do everyday work extraordinarily well. How is this done? By focusing everyone on the systems, processes and methods of work that are best suited to reliably and consistently assure that the customers get what they need and need what they get.
This will happen when leaders view the workers as colleagues working in the systems together on behalf of outside customers. This will not happen when managers see workers as potential problems needing to be controlled.
3. Real, Everyday, Face-to-Face Relationships
Viewing workers as potential adversaries and future problems describes a manager who has no real, everyday, face-to-face, one-on-one, person-to-person relationships with his or her people. This, perhaps, is the most important factor separating wonderful managers from clueless managers: relationships. The clueless manager exercises a remote control approach to people: Don't socialize with them. Don't get too close. Don't trust them, or at least manage with a premise of their untrustworthiness.
Remote control management is an approach to people that treats them like machines that can be made to work if you use the right settings and push the right buttons. The belief behind remote control management is that people don't really want to work or do a good job. Therefore, management must coerce or "motivate" workers to do their job.
What's missing for the clueless manager are relationships with people. In the absence of relationships, we view people as extensions of the mechanism, however humanistic our rhetoric may be.
The Wonderful Manager thrives on relationships with people, both inside and outside the organization. The Wonderful Manager encourages the fostering of one-to-one relationships within the organization. The Wonderful Manager relates to people with trust, respect and a willingness to hear their voices.
What to Do?
For the clueless to transform themselves into wonderful managers will probably take a "road to Damascus" type personal transformation - we're talking long-shot here. But I am an incurable optimist. So let me try a few suggestions I consider to be some of the secrets of wonderful managers.
The following tips might not transform the clueless, but they may help the not-yet-quite-wonderful move in the right direction.
1. Question the Assumptions You've Had About People
We all act on the basis of some premises about people. What are yours? You may need someone's help in finding out what yours are. For instance, do you believe that people cannot be trusted? That they don't want to do a good job? That as a manager you must "motivate" (i.e. bribe or threaten) them? Find out why you believe these things. When did you learn these assumptions and from whom?
2. Work With Your People - and Help Them Work With Each Other
Help them work together to understand your customers and to understand and improve your systems processes and methods. This is the path to excitement and accomplishment: to do good work for customers.
3. Be Honest With Your People and Speak Clearly to Them
Tell them the good news and bad news and keep them informed about how things are going. Avoid double talk, acronyms, techno-speak and management babble. Stop sounding like a Dilbert cartoon. Swear off expressions like "empowered", "self directed", "high performance", "reinventing" and "re-engineering".
This is just a start. It is certainly not an exhaustive treatment of the subject. But these concepts and approaches would have helped about 80 percent of the managers I have known to be better for their people, their organizations and their customers.