One of my biggest mistakes in recruiting somebody was early when I recruited a young man, straight out of school, as a COBOL programmer. The warning sign at his interview was his reply when I asked him where he saw his work taking him:
I would like your job. I’d like to sit in an office all day and order other people around.
I smiled inwardly but at the end of the interview decided to give him a chance anyway(!). I hoped that life would quickly knock this sense of entitlement out of him as well as showing him the reality of my role as a manager.
How wrong I was.
With hindsight, I should have heeded that comment as a warning sign. After investing significantly in that young man with intensive training in the early weeks with us, he left soon afterwards for a better offer with his new qualifications, with no sense of obligation to those who had built into him.
I took several lessons from this, but what I want to explore here was his understanding of management.
What is Management?
I think management is an over-used word in the world of work.
We talk about financial management. Fair enough. We need to manage our resources. Asset management? Of course. Venue management? That makes sense as well.
But what about time management?
We live and work in time, so how can we manage it? That’s like asking a fish to do water management. Fish swim, yes. But they don’t control the water.
And how about human resource management and stakeholder management?
When we use the language of management, it is a small step to deluding ourselves that we can control others and as a manager that is what we are supposed to do. In doing so, we reduce human beings to resources, cogs in the machine, or foot soldiers in the war effort. Choose your dehumanising metaphor.
With stakeholder management, how would you like to be managed by someone who is in another team or even in another organisation? Which is why I prefer the term stakeholder engagement or, better still, people engagement.
If management is the ordering or control of something, then, without resorting to some form of tyranny over others, the only person I can only truly control the behaviour of is … me.
I can coach you. I can counsel you. I might try to persuade you. I might even model to you what I would like you to do. I could even rebuke you, argue with you, or withdraw from you; but I can’t truly manage you – unless I am a prison warden, the manager of an orphanage, or a tyrant. I can invite you to do things, but that is not essentially management. That is leadership, not management.
Many subscribe to the economic transaction that if the employer pays them well enough, then the organisation ‘owns’ them for a big part of their life –– or all of it — until they are released.
Research has shown that children who learn to control themselves at an early age position themselves for success later on in life. However, quite a lot of parenting is for the convenience of the parent and enforces control.
When it comes to others around us, our colleagues, our team, line reports, we do well when we empower them and encourage them. See my post on releasing autonomy, for example. One of the leaders in my local church says,
We are not building a big church, but big people.
And there is plenty of evidence that they are succeeding, without controlling or manipulating people. People are becoming powerful in realising who they already are.
However, leading free people can be a bigger challenge than leading slaves. Being the master of a slave ship is so much easier. So many people revert to control.
The Damage of Managing People
So, when we coerce, control and dictate, we deny others their freedom and creative autonomy. When we override the wishes of others, we may get compliance, but we lose something greater and far more valuable.
We risk losing loyalty and a greater creative cohesion to a common cause. We risk losing the synergy that comes from other free individuals adding their creative fresh perspectives. When portfolio creators come together, usually something amazing and generous happens.
What About Self-Management?
I have come to realise that it is the only form of people management that is both defensible and appropriate – desirable even – is self-management. But more on that in another post.
What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment below.
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