THE ART OF MANAGEMENT
February 10, 2014 4 Comments
“Art is the proper task of life”.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
I have in the past written about where management skill should sit in the palette of business acumen (see “Management … is it an art or a science” posted September 9, 2013), and come to the conclusion that it is a bit of both art and science. However, there are some elements of management that I do consider to be an art form. Here are 5 of them.
Small steps … I believe that good management is based on steady and structured small steps over a period of time, rather than happening in giant leaps. A manager who is a great speaker can whip up a frenzy in his team almost at will, but generally the effect will be short-lived if not supported beyond the rhetoric. A “the world belongs to us if we just have the courage to reach out and take it” type speech may be great for a Monday morning sales meeting, but will need to be backed up with the right leadership, behaviours, support, team culture and collaterals to result in any true business benefit. It takes time to build a set of values that your people will live by (beyond just having them posted in your vision statement), and with them the culture and acceptable behaviours that are necessary to support these. This is one of the reasons that I have never been a big fan of the Tony Robbins style one day “rah-rah” sessions that people flock to around the world, as I am sure that the “I can do whatever I put my mind to” resultant belief has disappeared in most attendees after just a few days. Managing behaviour takes sustained time, effort and energy.
Passion more than skills … Skills are important but passion and attitude are even more so. I know that it is critical that managers ensure that their people have the skills that are needed to be able to do their job well. However, I believe that as a manager, you must put serious focus on ensuring that your people are also passionate about doing it at all. I have long told young management people (only a little tongue in cheek) that the ultimate test of a manager is that his people are prepared to get up at 6.00am on a cold, wet Monday morning and say “Thank goodness the weekend is over, and I can now go back to work”. SAP in the 1990s just exploded onto the business world, with annual growth rates of well over 100%. I have always put this down to the fact that it was mostly due to being driven by people who were “passionate, creative anarchists”. Yes, we had great technology, but this alone would not have been enough to achieve that level of success without the driving passion to change the world.
People need structure but not rigid boundaries … I believe that if you give people the freedom to do great things, then there is a greater chance that they will. I do believe that people need some structure in their working life, as it is important that they understand where they fit in, what is expected of them, what is in it for them and how they slot into the team. I also believe that good managers will give their people the freedom to perform their role in their own way, the right to question the status quo, to test the traditional boundaries and to regularly make mistakes. I see fear of failure as being one of the most important shackles that a manager needs to remove from his people. What we did to succeed yesterday will not necessarily work today, and what we do today will most likely not work tomorrow. Continued success needs continuous experimentation and change, which by definition presupposes that not all experiments will work, but experiment we must.
Being yourself works best … there is no one management style that fits all, so you should stick with who you really are. Some managers are more controlling than others (see “Are you an autocratic or permissive manager” posted June 4, 2012), and whilst I am a strong advocate of giving your people the space to spread their wings, I also believe that people are at their best when they are true to themselves. If you are by nature a control freak, it will not be easy for you to become a laissez-faire or consultative manager no matter how hard you try. Whilst you should work hard to temper your need to try and make all decisions and be in total control all the time, you may as well accept that this is your natural style and let your people learn to work with you in a way that works both for you and for them. It does mean that you may not be able to keep some of the more creative people nor those that need more freedom, so you should let them go elsewhere and you should look for people that can survive and prosper under your specific leadership style.
You can’t win them all … no matter how good you are, you will make mistakes. This is as true when it comes to recruiting the right people as it is for management and team decision making. Some people will not succumb to your charms, no matter how well-honed they are, and not all decisions you take will work all the time, particularly in the fast changing business environment we all face today. You need to accept responsibility when things don’t work out as planned, learn from the mistake and move on. I believe that you should publicly celebrate failures in the same way that you do successes by sharing them with your team, and discussing the lessons that you have learned, and that they can also learn from them, and the steps that you can all take to try and minimise their occurrence in the future.
It is also critical that as a manager you remember well the words of American artist James Whistler (1804-1903) “An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision”.