• October 9, 2020

    3 minute read

     

    I work for a small biotech company. For the most part, my manager is fine. He pretty much leaves me alone to do my work, and is generally supportive. But some days he drives me nuts! Thoughts?

    – Name withheld

    According to The Gallup Organization, only one out of every 10 humans has the ‘God-given’ talent to manage a team of people. They also estimate an alarming 82% of all supervisors have been ‘miscast’ in the role.[1]

    So consider yourself lucky. That you like your manager at all suggests you’re amongst the fortunate few.

    Still, I get your frustration. Most ‘bosses’ can be tough to work for, even the very best. That’s not to excuse their (mis)behavior, though. Nor is it meant to suggest they can’t improve – perhaps even dramatically. In other words, Gallup might claim that the capacity to manage, and manage well, is something you’re either born with or not, but I would disagree. Inept or otherwise bad managers are not beyond salvation. Their real problem, I’d argue, is even more fundamental than that:

    Most managers struggle because the one thing they think they know about managing is wrong.

    Here’s how your manager probably views his role: As manager, he’s ‘in charge.’ That means he does the telling, and you and everyone else who reports to him does the listening, then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when – that’s for him to decide, not you. And while he may be willing to leave you well enough alone on occasion, as you say, undoubtedly you both understand that should push come to shove and the two of you disagree on something, it’s his opinion that rules the day, not yours. That’s what being ‘the boss’ means, to him— and probably to you, too—and seemingly for good reason. This sort of understanding is would seem to be absolutely necessary if the business you work for is to have even a chance of succeeding.

    Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a shred of evidence to back any of this up.

    In fact, according to the best available evidence managers are more effective—and their organizations are more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around.

    I’ll say that again: Managers are more effective when they see their function as one of support, not power, control, or authority.

    Research by Google, Gallup, Harvard, and a study associated with the Wharton school all demonstrate as much.[2] But the underlying logic isn’t hard to follow. Engaged or ‘enthusiastic’ employees are more productive than their less motivated counterparts (by some measures, as much as 40 percent more[3]). This gives the businesses they work for an advantage in a competitive marketplace. The key then is to get the hoped for levels of enthusiasm from your employees – and that’s best achieved by listening to, supporting, and giving them the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    Or, as one study bluntly puts it, managers are more effective when they ‘give employees what they want.’[4]

    Needless to say, most managers don’t really see things this way. Again, your manager considers himself to be ‘in charge,’ and behaves accordingly. He wants to tell you what to do, because to him that feels more ‘managerial.’ And he’s likely bristle when you try to tell him what you want, or need, because he feels it’s not his place to listen. That might explain why the best thing you have to say about him is that he leaves you alone.

    So don’t be too hard on your manager. If he drives you to distraction on occasion, it’s not really his fault.

    I’m guessing nobody’s told him the one thing he thinks he knows about managing is wrong.

     


    [1] The Gallup Organization. 2015. The State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders.

    [2] The Google study, termed ‘Project Oxygen,’ is available as a free download at the company’s website. See also: Wagner, R. & Harter, J. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press; Hill, L. 2003. Becoming a Manager, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [3] Pfeffer, J. 1998. The Human Equation, Boston: Harvard Business School.

    [4] Sirota, et. al.

     

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  • 3 minute read

     

    I’m a manager at a small biotech company. I have four employees reporting to me at the moment, and for the most part they’re great. But some days they make me want to pull out all of my hair!

    – Name withheld

     

    According to The Gallup Organization, managers report experiencing more workplace stress, more burnout, poorer work-life balance, and worse physical well-being than the individuals they manage.[i]

    So take heart – you’re not alone. For most managers, it’s a stressful experience.

    And for good reason. It’s time-consuming, emotionally draining, tough to do well,  and demanding even when you do get it right. Undoubtedly you are well aware of this. What you may not realize, however, is that much of this difficulty—probably most of it—could be due to the fact that one thing you probably think you know about managing is wrong.

    Let me say that again.

    What most of people think it takes to be a ‘good manager,’ and what it actually requires are two completely different things.

    If nothing else, as a manager, you probably believe that you are in charge. You’re ‘the boss,’ in other words – which means you do the telling, while your employees do the listening, and then the doing. What to do, how to do it, and by when – this is all up to you to decide (or at least approve), not your ‘subordinates.’ And that’s just how things have to be if your organization is have even a chance of succeeding. Otherwise, organizational chaos—and ultimately commercial failure—are sure to be the result. Right?

    In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.

    According to the best available research,[ii] ‘good management’ is just the opposite. Managers are far more effective—and their organizations are far more profitable—when they behave as if their employees are in charge of them, not the other way around.

    Again, the one thing you might think you know about managing is wrong.

    The logic here isn’t hard to follow. Engaged or ‘enthusiastic’ employees are demonstrably more productive than their less motivated counterparts (up to 40% more, by some measures[iii]). This gives the businesses they work for an advantage in a competitive marketplace. The key then is getting the hoped for levels of enthusiasm from your employees – and that’s best achieved by listening to, supporting, and giving your employees the things they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    Or, as one study bluntly put it, managers are more effective when they “give employees what they want.”[iv]

    If you think about it, though, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Just about your own career. Can you honestly say you’d be happier working for a manager who is controlling and punitive, as opposed to someone who listens to you and supports you in your work? Would you really prefer someone who merely sees you as a pair of hands to do his/her bidding? Or would you be more engaged—and therefore more productive—with a manager who recognizes your unique skills, sees you as intelligent and capable of making your own decisions, and appreciates your creative contributions to organizational goals?

    I certainly know who I’d rather work for.

    Nevertheless, this is not how most people—managers and employees alike—view the management function. A top-down, ‘command-and-control’-type style is still widely assumed to be the best way, if not only way to manage any for-profit business. Yes – there is an increasing awareness and appreciation of so-called ‘employee ‘empowerment,’ and it’s many organizational benefits. But your peers, business schools, MBA programs, most of the management advice literature, and probably your own boss all probably subscribe to a traditional, hierarchical approach to managing. That means you’re the boss. Unfortunately for everyone involved, however, it’s not nearly as effective as behaving as if your employees are the boss of you.

    So don’t be too hard on yourself. And certainly don’t tear out your hair. After all, it’s not really your fault.

    How were you to know that the one thing you likely think you know about managing is wrong?

    [i] Clifton, J. & Harter, J. 2019. It’s the Manager, New York: Gallup Press.

    [ii] Research by Google, The Gallup Organization, Harvard, and associated with The Wharton School might be cited here, amongst numerous other studies. Google’s Project Oxygen report is available as a free download at the company’s website. See also: Wagner, R. & Harter, J. 2006. 12, The Elements of Great Managing, New York: Gallup Press; Hill, L. 2003. Becoming a Manager, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

    [iii] Pfeffer, J. 1998. The Human Equation, Boston: Harvard Business School.

    [iv] Sirota, D., Mischkind, L. A. & Meltzer, M. I. 2005. The Enthusiastic Employee, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

     

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