Friday, June 15, 2007


(News-Herald, June 14) Is it really that hard to be a good manager? Is it that difficult to understand some basic principles of how to motivate people? Or if you can’t figure out how to turn them on, at least manage not to turn them off.

Rhetorical questions, really. There’s no question that the world is filled with lousy managers. For them, here are some of the basics of Management 101.

Talk is cheap. Some managers seem to think that platitudes about teamwork and vision can be uttered like magic incantations, after which the manager can go ahead and do whatever he feels like.

Wrong. Talk means nothing; actions mean everything. If your employees really are part of the team, and you treat them that way, they’ll know it even if you say nothing. If your employees aren’t part of the team, saying so won’t make them believe it. In fact, saying so is insulting, suggesting that you think they’re too stupid to know the difference.

Tell them what you want. The one time talk means something is when you are articulating what you expect. If you don’t (or can’t) tell your employees what you expect from them, do not be surprised (or angry) when you don’t get it. It is not your employee’s job to read your mind; it is your job to articulate what you want clearly. That, however, leads directly to:

And mean it. See point #1 above. Think about the vision that you articulated. Imagine what you would do if you really meant all that stuff you said. Is that what you’re doing, all day, every day?

Bullying is not a management style. Yelling, browbeating, intimidating and just generally being a pushy strong-armed jerk will not get the best out of your people. They may never do anything unpleasant to your face, but they will never go the extra mile for you, unless it’s going out of their way in the company parking lot to slash your tires.

Include them. When you have to make decisions that affect how your employees do their jobs, it is the most basic of common courtesies to consult them about it.

People do their best, hardest work when they have some sort of emotional investment in their job. When a job situation becomes unpredictable and out of their control, the natural reaction is to disengage. It’s like dating the crazy woman—after a while, the only way to cope with her bizarre behavior is to simply make yourself stop caring.

Listen. Listen listen listen Listen. And also, listen. The most underused management skill in the world, and yet one of the most effective ones.

People want to be heard. When they have concerns or objections, they really really want to be heard.

Many bad managers seem to believe that all negative comments and contrary opinions must be squelched and stomped flat and rolled over. The irony is that nine times out of ten, people who believe they’ve been heard can take it when the decision doesn’t go their way. But when they feel that their point of view wasn’t even heard or considered, their anger festers and grows.

Sure, if you hammer hard enough, you can’t get people to shut up and do as their told. But all that gets you is a bunch of people who do just what they’re told, and no more, which isn’t anything close to “getting the best work from your people.”

And if you really want to anger them, set things up so that they never have a chance to express an opinion in the first place. Management by e-mail is excellent for this. But there are many ways to arrange things so that you rarely have to meet your people face to face, or even learn their names.

Managers almost always skip listening because they think it will solve or avoid problems. They are wrong—refusing to listen, either by passive avoidance or hostile confrontation, creates far more problems than it solves.

Beware convenience. In all fairness, this is not simply a management problem. The whole world is suffering at the hands of people who don’t want to do one part of the job or another because “it’s haaarrrrrd.” Managers face double pressure here; not only do they need to do the hard parts because the hard parts need to be done, but managers also have to set an example for their people.

Note for managers: the hard parts include everything on this list.

Note for everyone: if you’re unwilling to do the hard parts, your employer is justified in asking what exactly he’s paying you for.

Of course, no bad managers will see themselves in this article. Feel free, employed readers, to clip it out and send it by inter-office mail.

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