This is a subject close to my heart and when I found this article in the newspaper in 1980 it immediately appealed to me. It comprehensively addresses many of the problems around Management and Leadership.
I intend coming back to it from time to time to expand on some of the points made and perhaps add the odd anecdote.
How not to mismanage your managers – (this is the original headline)(By Stephen Orpen in the Sunday Times, Business Times, September 14, 1980)
PERHAPS, UNCONSCIOUSLY, YOU ARE DOING THINGS CERTAIN TO UNDERMINE YOUR MANAGERS AND YOUR COMPANY. HERE ARE KEY STEPS TO HELP YOU AVOID THE DANGERS.
Good managers are hard to find, hard to develop and hard to keep. The modern manager sits at the centre of the maelstrom. His desk is the final destination of the briskly passing buck.
He has his job cut out just trying to keep track of what’s happening and trying to control it. Conditions that once could be relied on to remain substantially unchanged for ten years are now often transformed beyond recognition in ten months.
Every day, he is given the unwelcome opportunity of becoming an industrial hero by making decisions fraught with personal risk and responsibility.
To do all this, to enjoy doing it and to do it well requires special qualities such as courage, kindness, intelligence, judgement, nervous stability, optimism, patience, drive, perseverance, the constitution of an ox and a marked degree of masochism.
There have never been a great number of people with these qualities – and one can safely assume the shortage will continue. Consequently, it is useful to ask: “How do I make the most of what I’ve got?”
Managers have two functions: (a) to make decisions, and (b) to control people.
To make decisions, they need judgement and confidence.
The ability to make decisions is like a muscle. It develops best with regular exercise that is steadily increased. The earlier the exercise begins, the more impressive the results.
To control people, managers need both respect and self-respect. Self-respect develops from knowing what one has personally contributed to the job.
Respect is won when other people know it too. Responsibility and recognition are, therefore, the prime prerequisites of the effective manager.
You need good managers if you are going to run, not ruin, your business. Yet often the bosses who think they are most aware of this unconsciously do things that are certain to undermine their managers.
Here are some of the easiest ways to mismanage a manager:
(1) Make him responsible for too little and force him to justify his existence at every turn.
(2) Make him responsible for too much so he’s forever apologising for everything he’s left undone.
(3) Never define his responsibilities. Then he can get all the blame when things go wrong and none of the praise when they turn out right.
(4) Make him responsible without giving him authority. Put him in charge of operations over which he has no budgetary or disciplinary control. Don’t give him the power to hire staff to get the work done, nor to fire staff whose incompetence impedes progress.
(5) Set unrealistic targets for his achievement. Now that you’ve cut the promotion budget and introduced a hefty price increase and your competitors have just launched a better product, tell your sales manager that you expect him to increase your market share by 10%/ this is guaranteed to improve his sales incentive – in selling his services elsewhere!
(6) Assume that everything is always his fault. Call him in, look at him accusingly and treat his every remark as a damaging admission. He’ll soon be defending himself before he even discovers what he’s guilty of. Then point out, more in anger than in sorrow, that “who excuses himself accuses himself”.
(7) Be intolerant when it really is his fault. Our own shortcomings are lovable idiosyncrasies. Those of others are intolerable incompetency. Forget that the more a manager does for you, the more he runs the risk of making a mistake.
(8) Set out to KEEP HIM ON HIS TOES. The standard way to do this is to ask questions about trivial details at unexpected and inopportune moments. When management experts say that every manager has large areas of ignorance; that he can’t and shouldn’t know everything; that he must save time by knowing only what it is necessary for him to know so long as he knows where to find out the rest; in your mind they’re clearly talking about you, not the managers who report to you.
(9) Give unsought assistance. Treat managers as if they were personal assistants. Mould them into extensions of yourself. Don’t stop at telling them what is to be done, give them a detailed description of how it is to be done. This destroys a manager’s capacity to think and act for himself, inhibits his learning processes and produces worse results than he could have achieved unaided.
(10) When he does seek help, make sure he doesn’t like the help he gets. This discourages him from taking up your time – and from doing anything else. One way to close down communications is to SOLVE some problem that has worried him for weeks in five minutes OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD and wave him out with a benign smile. He now has two worries instead of one – a problem he can’t solve and a solution he can’t use.
(11) Start doing his job for him. Brief him on a task that will involve tricky conversations with difficult people. Ring them all up just to tell them:
“I’ve asked Joe to talk to you about so and so”. Then, when he gets round to them, they can tell him, “It’s already taken care of with the boss”. This not only makes him feel useless but it makes him look useless to the people he’s supposed to manage.
(12) Keep checking up on him. Once he learns that you never seriously expect him to get anything done on his own, he’ll give you exactly what you expect: nothing new and nothing original.
(13) Have cosy chats with his staff about him. This will prove that it’s better to be popular than productive. Encourage him to forego all pretence of managing and spend his time in currying favour with his staff in the hope that a few of the kindly ones will put in a good word for him with you.
(14) Let him tell the bad news – give the good news yourself. Let each manager handle matters of firing, retiring, lateral promotions, demotions, inquisitions and admonitions. You hand out raises, promotions, bonuses and general bonhomie. Tell the managers after you have told the recipients, so that the staff will do anything for you and nothing for your supposedly chosen representatives.
(15) Criticise a manager in front of his staff. Or, better still, ridicule him. This will show everyone that you have a sense of humour, or alternatively that you don’t mind employing buffoons. It will also give you a chance later to complain with perfect truth that all your managers are pretty useless at getting things done and that all the drive has to come from you.
(16) Have too many levels of sub-managers. That’s how to get an organisation where everybody’s an architect and nobody lays bricks, within an atmosphere of real management democracy where everybody feels he’s as good as everybody else and spends all his time proving it.
(17) Re-organise your managers often. Do enough of it and you’ll defeat even the most devoted apostle of order. As your managers ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES the whole business will roll with them.
(18) Divide and rule. If they’re worrying about blocking each other’s advancement, they’re not worrying you – nor worrying about your business.
Perhaps you are not guilty of any of these mistakes in handling your managers. But if any of them thinks you are, the effects may be just as harmful.
In any case, you’ve doubtless observed some of these shortcomings in other executives. Plain truth is the boss who allows himself to indulge in these entirely human failings, even briefly, can expect certain consequences. Some managers will turn into those pale creatures who approach you in terror and leave you with relief.
Others will become lackeys who mouth their approval before you’ve finished telling them what to approve of. Others will turn sour and silent. Others will give up the struggle altogether and go elsewhere.
Management without misery
Once you have accepted what NOT to do, the rules for success are very simple.
First, remind yourself that there are necessary limits to what the boss should do himself. The final responsibility for four main tasks must always rest with him. These are:
- To assemble the right managerial group,
- To organise the group properly,
- To set the right goals for it,
- To see that it stays on course and moves at the optimum speed.
Coping with these four crucial areas is labour enough for any man. If they’re done properly, the boss won’t need to spread his influence any further.
If they are not done properly, he won’t be able to spread his influence further, save in a totally destructive way.
The only real trouble with managers arises when, having failed to do his own task, the boss sets out to do theirs for them.
Concentrate on telling your managers what to do, not how to do it. Then trust them. Be approachable. Let them feel free to seek your advice without regarding it as an admission of failure on their part.
If your managers do fail, be charitable. The first failure was yours. You picked them. Let them feel valued; otherwise they will tend to become valueless.
When, under this wise leadership, they grow in stature and begin to stand firmly on their own feet, resist the temptation to CUT THEM DOWN TO SIZE, unless the interests of the company are truly threatened by their arrogance.
Finally, if they presume to disagree with you, don’t react like a wounded buffalo. If they are not actually insolent, they are paying you the compliment of trusting you to be fair.
To disagree with the boss is always an act requiring courage. If it requires downright insanity, then sane men will seek a better boss in a saner company.