Monday 1 May 2017

Macho's out as modern management becomes about leading by consent

Tony McNulty
Tony McNulty

Tony McNulty

'Could you please raise a hand if you think managing people is getting any easier?" As part of my book tour this year, I have asked management audiences in four different countries that question. Not a single hand has yet been raised. If you are currently a manager and feel you are struggling, you are not alone. Management has become much harder in the modern world.

There are three main reasons:

1: The workforce is more assertive, demanding and diverse: By and large, people are more educated, more confident and more self-assured. They are less deferential towards authority, and irrespective of their background and culture, they expect to be consulted about matters affecting them.

2: There has been a waning of respect towards institutions, organisations and those in positions of authority: People's trust in authority has been eroded by a succession of scandals, cover-ups and administrative incompetence. Individuals no longer have confidence in institutions. Every inquiry into why things have gone wrong usually ends up blaming "management".

3: Opportunities to develop management capabilities have reduced: At one time, fledgling managers could learn from company "role models". In modern, flat, streamlined organisations these seasoned practitioners are fewer in number. Advice and guidance is harder to find and there are fewer opportunities to cut your managerial teeth by leading a small group or unit in the early stages of your career. Nowadays many managers get thrust into significant management roles, where there is a wide span of control, with little or no prior management experience.

So where has macho manager, toting his machine gun as he barks out instructions, gone? He's still out there in some places, but he's an endangered species. As an increasing body of research shows, as soon as his back is turned, people ignore his instructions and generally get away with it.

So if you are one of today's managers, how are you doing? In my experience, probably OK. Whatever their level, and despite all of the challenges, I find that most managers are doing a pretty good job. Improvements are usually a matter of fine tuning.

We all have particular things which trip us up. You need to find out what these are and take the appropriate action. As Rob Marks and I argue in our book, effective management in the modern world is by permission. You can only lead with the active co-operation and consent of the people reporting to you. Successful management comprises four ingredients. Get these four right, and everything falls into place.

In brief:

Keep things under control: Here there are three tasks. You need to find out what numbers to track. You must have what we call a "Work Management System." You also need to walk your patch (talk to people, listen, be visible and available).

Establish expectations: Both your own and theirs. People need to know what you want and expect, and to understand what is non-negotiable. In turn you need to understand their requirements, motivations and needs.

Run interference: The phrase has its origins in American football. You must act as a shield for your staff, ensuring that organisational obstacles (such as misguided initiatives) do not disrupt and disturb. Most of us are horses that run best with blinkers. Take steps to remove the boulders from the race track so that people can get on with the job for which they were hired.

Develop the people: Today, staff expect development as part of their employment package. If you help people develop, they not only perform better, they spend less time looking at job boards on the web.

Are the challenges of management in Ireland any different from elsewhere? As a British management consultant who has worked on and off here for nearly two decades, I don't see too many differences. People work very hard here, but it doesn't stop them also having fun. And Irish people are perhaps a little more outspoken and direct than in some other countries.

There is, however, one important difference about Ireland. Remember that almost everyone will know someone who knows you personally, or could quickly find someone who does. People can and do take a read on you. What people say about you can be perceived as "fact". So you cannot afford to be cavalier about your "press". Get some insight into your reputation, and make sure it is not career-limiting.

'Management by Permission: Managing People in the 21st Century' (Springer, 2016) by Dr Tony McNulty and Rob Marks

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