So far in this series we’ve covered two managerial pitfalls, ‘Failure to Accept Personal Accountability’ and ‘Having a We/They Attitude’, both of which have proven they can trip a manager up. Now we come to probably the single most evasive challenge for all managers; namely the importance of managing ourselves and the consequences when we don’t. Managing others demands self-discipline; if you can’t manage yourself, you’ll never manage anyone else effectively.
So in talking about this failure to manage ourselves, what we mean is we fail to manage our emotional and psychological needs. This failure impacts in a lot of different ways, the most prevalent of which is time pressure!
The activity trap and our need to be needed
Most managers we meet are under intense time pressure and the reason they are is because all of us in management must deal with several different types of time. All of us have a job to do; specific activities we need to engage in that take a certain amount of what we term ‘job-imposed time’. The second type of time is ‘boss-imposed time’; that time imposed on us by the person that manages us (external forces are included in this). We can have our day planned to perfection but the reality is there’s always someone or something that can come out of the woodwork and dictate activities to us, even if you’re the CEO or the Chairman….and that’s life, that’s business!
The third type of time is ‘creative time’, that time spent thinking, learning and planning where you are, where you’re going and how to get there. Every forward thinking manager recognises that what they need more of is creative time, because management is essentially a thinking, not a doing, job. Most of us will admit however it’s the type of time we have the least of. So we’re going to lose some of our time to job and boss imposed activities but the vast majority of managers’ time is lost to the fourth type of time, which we call ‘subordinate-imposed time’; that time imposed on us, unnecessarily, by the people we manage.
Have you ever had this experience? At some point, maybe on a Friday afternoon, you woke up and said to yourself “I’m not running this operation, it’s running me!” “I’m not managing these people, they’re managing me!” “I’m going to get back in control of my life!” So over the weekend you figured out your priorities, graded all of your activities and put a plan together. By Monday you were on the job and you were set, you just felt a greater sense of purpose and anticipation than you’d had for a long time; you were in command of your life. One of your people comes to you and says, "Boss, am I glad we caught up, do we have a problem." Now like all the problems they’re kind and gracious enough to bring to us we know enough to immediately get involved but not enough to give an answer so we say, "I’m glad you brought that up, I'll get back with you later today."
What just happened? Before the interaction, who had the problem? They did! After it who had the problem? You did! We recommend to you, the minute you hear anything that sounds like “we have a problem” you imagine a monkey sitting right on their back, its little hairy legs curl right down round their neck. Now that monkey is looking for a place to go. Listen to them, counsel them, guide them but make sure when you’re done that they take their monkey with them. If you don’t, and you manage say 6 people, each of them will be kind enough to give you a monkey a day. That's 30 monkeys a week, 130 monkeys a month, in 6 weeks you’re running a zoo!
Too many of us are running zoos, and we’re running zoos for a reason. We’ve acquired an inverted view as to how problems should be handled in a business. Too many of us believe that problems should be passed up the line, but nothing could be further from the truth. In businesses that operate effectively, problems are passed down the line. For us, most of the issues and problems our people bring to us are nothing more than time consuming detail, but for them they’re an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to learn.
So why do we do it, often unconsciously? Simply, we need to feel needed….and it’s that part of our human make up that we have to ensure we manage, if we’re to manage effectively. Are there problems that the team will have that managers should solve; absolutely? These are the unique ones; the gorillas, the challenging ones that couldn’t have been anticipated that demand our expertise and experience. However denying a subordinate the experience of solving their own problems denies them the opportunity for growth and, when we do that, we fail them!
So when you call your office at 9:30 on day one of a planned two-day absence, what you’re really saying is, ‘I don't think you can function without me’. And your employees' opinions of themselves can become as low as they perceive yours to be.
Managers who are unable to conquer this need for affection never build strong productive people; consequently, their teams remain weak and you cannot build a strong team and a strong business on weak individuals. The purpose of management and leadership is to build an entity that can function in our absence and so the test for every manager becomes not what we can do, but rather what can our people can do without us.
In our fifth post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #4 “Managing everyone the same way".