There’s been a lot of studies done on what makes businesses succeed and–what a surprise–it’s the same thing that allows any group of people to succeed. And note I said allows and not causes. People will naturally surprise us with their capability, the only question is; just how skilled is a leader at finding those opportunities?
Evidence of this can easily be seen when a new manager takes over an old group. The very same group of people that the previous manager felt were useless can suddenly become superstars–why? Very often it’s because they stopped being managed like they were in the military and they started being managed like they’re human beings rather than human doings.
Bad leaders think people do things for them, good leaders know that in a good team all of the people are working together toward a common, meaningful goal. In one scenario the staff work for the leader and in the other all of them work for each other. In one case their job title is ordered to perform a business function and in the other some human beings cooperate to get something done that’s of mutual benefit.
Many times management will be so off target that they won’t even have considered the texture and feel of their employee’s day. All the manager sees is their own to-do list and they imagine that all of these people have been gathered under them to help them get their manager’s list taken care of. Ordering something get done is not management, it’s just orders, and those you can get from a machine.
Weaker managers will often be baffled about what else they would even do other than get their own lists done. They just see work; you do this, he does that, she does the other thing. There is no philosophy driving the work or how it’s done, it’s just a daily list.
Meanwhile, a stronger manager realises that the work day is generally at least 1/3rd of their co-workers lives, which is close to the number of waking hours people will spend with a spouse. Ordering consistently unmotivated work to be done in an unmotivated fashion is the same thing as covering the windshield and then telling the staff where you want them to drive. They can understand the directions and maybe even find it on their GPS, but that doesn’t help them negotiate the daily traffic of their lives. The problem for the weaker manager is that they’re only managing their own life and not the lives of everyone that works for them.
As an example, let’s say a mom returning from maternity leave has returned to work. She’s capable, hard-working and liked by her co-workers, but she starts coming in late. A bad boss draws her attention to her lateness and then possibly sets some kind of penalty. She tries to explain the challenges created by where her daycare moved to, but the manager doesn’t really listen to how the woman’s windshield is covered. Maybe she’s a woman too and she raised kids and worked, so she doesn’t see the problem. So she tells the woman to get to work despite the covered windshield, as though there’s no limits to managing around a kid.
Around a kid. A manager should hear that come out of their mouth and know immediately that’s gotta be wrong. The manager is asking a parent to value their work more than their child. Now the bad manager would say that’s not what they’re doing, but that’ll just be their beliefs about themselves. There’ll be a but… in there for the manager. Yeah, I know she’s gotta a new kid and that’s challenging, but she still has to get her work done…. So the manager basically says; your problem, not work’s. And technically that’s true, especially in countries that don’t even have mandatory support for maternity leave.
A manager is best to try to help solve their employee’s challenge because something being technically correct isn’t actually very useful to a manager. Technical correctness is a term for things that look like they should work but they’re missing some humanity. A poor manager sees the staff like buckets of skills that you fill with work. The staff see work as a major part of their life and they absolutely will respond positively to any co-worker/manager who finds a way to make that daily experience more enriching.
If you’re on a staff somewhere, figure out if your manager is trying to build a team and if you’re cooperating with that effort or putting yourself first. Because you may very well end up further behind by putting yourself first. And if you’re a manager somewhere, make sure that you also are not putting yourself first. You will be rewarded well for any efforts you make toward ensuring that the people you work with have an environment that is generally understanding, constructive, pleasant, supportive, and rewarding. And fortunately, creating even one of those things often leads to the others developing quite naturally.
Now go get on a team. It feels good to surrender your wants for almost any goal achieved in cooperation with others. And a good manager knows that.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.