Management Myths

Four people and a contract

Most managers do well using a participatory management style.

I recently read an article that addressed management myths. It stimulated my thinking on the subject. I agree with some of the messages conveyed in the article but not all. I’ll give my two cents and refer you to the original article. My hope is that this will also stimulate your thoughts on the subject!

As a holder of an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and as an avid reader of books, magazines and newspapers, I’ve heard management theories from a wide swath of people. Those in academia who base their theories solely on research, those in the business world who base their theories on their personal experiences and others who observe their actions and others and base their theories on these observations. One thing I can definitely say when it comes to people: everyone is different so few approaches work equally well for everyone. (I know. I’m so enlightening I should write a book on the subject!)
In addition, management evolves and changes over time. Why? It’s  an art, not a science. What worked well in the early 1900s in the U.S. in the industrial age when people believed in more authoritative structures just doesn’t work as well in today’s more empowered age. If you don’t believe me, check out the Best Places to Work list in Fortune and other magazines. You never see a company with a highly authoritarian structure on the list! However, some of the companies on the Fortune 500 or Inc. 500 list do have authoritarian CEOs and owners. People may not really enjoy working there but those same people produce results.

 

A few myths:

 

1. All good leaders empower. This is something I truly believe in and practice. I could NEVER work for someone or a company where I was constantly told what to do. I chafe significantly and have to be moved or leave the organization. Fortunately, I only had one instance of this in my entire career, which started as an intern at GM at age 17! But I’m not everybody. There are those employees who feel way out of their comfort zone if not told what to do on a regular, ongoing basis. Empowerment to them means enabling them to participate in discussions, not actually making decisions. Or making decisions according to a step-by-step, clearly defined process.

  • Neither my way of behaving nor the opposite is better. They’re just different.  It takes all kinds of people in this world to achieve various objectives. The key to success is to identify the type of person someone is and to identify the kind you need in your business or in a particular role.

2. “It’s not what you know but who you know.” Oh, I love this one! This statement can sometimes be a bunch of bunk but at other times be highly applicable. How would you ever get anything done if you didn’t know anything? But, as a company CEO, what would you achieve if you knew everything but didn’t know partners, customers, suppliers, etc. who could help your business? First of all, we all need a knowledge base from which to start. But the key thereafter is to be resourceful.

  • When I had to connect with leaders of telecom companies in Japan, I didn’t know ANYONE at any of the companies we targeted. But I knew one person who knew a few and found a consulting firm with many contacts. Between those two, I got connected to every company and person I needed. What did I know about telecom in Japan when I started? Nothing. But isn’t that what research is for? And I knew how to do research. Who did I know? At first, no one. But then I brainstormed and reached out to those I did. Ever heard of “six degrees of separation?” Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. A basic skill set and resourcefulness.

3. Managers should be able to do all the jobs of those they manage. This one is a doozy! I find this way of thinking primarily exists among those that manage projects and not people or those who are not managers. Unless someone is a supervisor on a production line, or serves ome similar function, and will step into a duty when an employee is absent, it is not necessary for managers to do the jobs of those they manage. It is essential that managers have an awareness of what is required in the roles of those they manage so they can provide assistance and coach their employees when needed.

  • However, it’s just not feasible for a manager of ten people to know how to do all their jobs. The manager’s role is to guide and direct. But non-manager employees often do not understand this. Sometimes these employees feel a sense of superiority over their managers because they know more. I always say, “You’re supposed to know more about your job than your boss. Otherwise, you are not needed!” Both managers and the employees they manage benefit from understanding the roles they play and how they play. This understanding helps engender respect between the two groups.

In summary: There’s no formula for being a successful manager. What works best as your management style and those of the managers in your company depends on personality, beliefs and company goals. In addition, different styles work better at different times or in different situations. For example, the CEO of a company under financial duress in a turnaround situation typically can’t afford to practice a democratic, highly interactive management style because decisions must be quick and sometimes unpopular. But when the company returns to profitability and good cash flow, the interactive management style would typically be more appropriate.