8th December 2016

Never Not Manage

Business leaders and business owners often struggle with managing others and I understand that. It is difficult. It is a challenge. It is a constantly shifting scene, which takes energy and empathy to do effectively. Typically we either over-manage or undermanage, whatever our underlying style may be.

Getting it right is always difficult and often seems almost impossible. A bit like an author searching for ‘le mot juste’, exactly the right word for the moment, for the context, for the situation; or a painter searching for exactly the right combination of colour and brush stroke, texture and contrast to complete the effect a great manager will know and carefully consider his or her options before choosing to act in a certain way with his or her people.

However, the concept I have in mind at the moment is not the nuances of excellence in management but one of the furthest extremes of the spectrum which I might call not managing.

Not managing often happens when we take someone and their abilities for granted, when we are confident that they know what to do and how to do it. This often gives rise to a dangerous level of complacency. Of course we need to trust our people, that is only right and proper but when that turns into not managing that is dangerous.

In many ways it is similar to being a parent. You can never not be a parent, no matter how old your offspring becomes you will always be a parent and have those parental responsibilities and in the same way that you wouldn’t be a very good parent if you treated your child in exactly the same way at 25 as you did when they were 5, so you wouldn’t treat any team member in exactly the same way in every circumstance.

How we manage people in any particular circumstance is a skill, perhaps even an art form. It is definitely a talent. Whether we manage is a choice. I recently met someone who had just appointed a new manager after a long and diligent search. He inducted him into the business well and was going through that very nervous period of letting him settle in and find his feet. He knew that he needed to allow him to assume responsibility and accountability for that part of the business for which he was hired, all of which was right and proper. However when something seemed to go wrong it called into question the precise level of engagement between the business leader and his new hire. He realised that in trying to give him space he had probably allowed the pendulum to swing too far and into the ‘not managing’ territory.

This is one of the toughest challenges for all leaders, how to manage appropriately to the circumstances and the individuals. The skills that underlie our ability to do this are emotional intelligence skills, which we need to be able to call on even in the crucible hot context of a commercial crisis.

However, I do know from personal experience that in the same way, as a parent, we can never not be a parent; so as a manager we can never not manage.