Ever complained about your manager?
Do you know anyone who has not at some time, unless they are their own boss, complained about their manager? Typically, protests will say that managers over-interfere, or at the other extreme are noticeable by their absence. They waste time coming up with irrelevant projects and do not understand the needs of their staff. They are overbearing and don’t understand the business anyway and spend too much time in meetings not doing very much and so on and so on. In fact some organisations have taken these ideas so seriously that they have dispensed with managers altogether and gone for very flat structures, although, there must be at least one person and a board at the top.
It’s them, not us!
The interesting thing that I have found in my years of working with organisations is that all iniquity seems to exist at the level above the one of the people I am working with; in other words, all problems are generally with them and not us! One of the downsides of not having managers is that decision making depends very much on consensus and can be a slow difficult business. Also, natural leaders emerge and tend to dominate groups whilst quieter more reticent workers who have a lot to contribute can be over-looked and the pressures of ‘how to behave’ can be subtly applied by the dominant ‘in-crowd’ rather than openly discussed and implemented through a management structure.
Of course, we all want to be respected and treated like adults and if we are managers ourselves, the best yardstick perhaps is to remember how we like to be managed, or at least how we know we will be able to best perform. History does seem to show us that when you want to get something done, you need a leader and a team. Today, that does not mean slave-ships or dictators; we like to think we have a more enlightened view of what it is to manage. If I think about what I best respond to, I like the idea of the inverted pyramid and the servant leadership model where the leader is supporting rather than always leading from the front. However, there are always going to be challenging times when we need and want the leader to step up front in no uncertain terms.
Potency, Permission and Protection
There are so many models of management but some years ago I was able to meet a great communicator, Abe Wagner. In his book ‘The Transactional Manager’, which is about how to deal with communication issues, he talks about the 3 ‘P’s, which I think is a simple and powerful model for managers: the concepts of Potency, Permission and Protection. The Potent manager is one who sees the big picture, understands the system he/she is working in, is appropriately assertive and practises what he/she preaches and expects of others. Giving permission is enabling staff to make mistakes without fear of retribution, really listening to them and enabling them to question and challenge in the same way and in particular, modelling the behaviour expected of others. Finally, feeling protected is about knowing your manager will remain neutral when and if there are complaints made about you, that you will not be automatically shielded but that any issues will be dealt with in a fair, consistent and straightforward manner, focussing on the solution to any problem.