Whether we like it or not, industrialisation, globalisation and business development in general has seen the birth of a new breed of professional, the manager. Unless you are blissfully caught up in a one-man enterprise of sorts and can call yourself your own manager, chances are that somewhere, sometime your life is influenced by one.

Note that managers are different from leaders and in my perception there seems to be far more managers around than leaders, to the point I’m willing to postulate that businesses these days are over-managed and under-led to the point that more and more people are disillusioned with their jobs, frustrated by the office politics and generally not enjoying their work as much as they could be. Why is it? Surely what managers do is good, necessary and important and without them we would be at a loss? Or is it that the nature of management and the behaviours associated with management is in fact responsible for causing more agony than necessary? Let’s pick this apart a little:

Management Behaviour 1: Trying to Turn Everything into A Win-Win
In itself this is not a bad thing, to think that people are more likely to do something if they think they will get something out of it too, rather than lose out. Common sense actually, but it can create its own set of problems. By focusing on procedure of how a decision should be made (the process) as opposed to what decision needs to be taken, the managers conveniently distract people from thinking about what they might potentially lose out on if the decision that is taken is not to their advantage. Once people commit to the process of how the decision will be made, they will have to support the outcome as they were involved in formulating the decision-making rules. This will make them accept their losses, believing that next time they will win. Needless to say that over time this will simply end up demotivating people.

Management Behaviour 2: Being Vague is Easier than Being Crystal-Clear
Managers have a habit of communicating with their sub-ordinates indirectly, using vague language, ‘signals’ rather than clear ‘messages’. A signal can be interpreted in any number of ways, while a message clearly states a position. A signal doesn’t put your head on the line, because you can always later blame that your signals were ‘misinterpreted’ by your staff, whereas messages put your head firmly on the line, stating ‘this is what I stand for’. From another angle it also means that with messages there is the direct consequence that some people may indeed not like what they hear, but in any case messages create emotional responses (good or bad) in people and makes managers eager to preserve the status quo (see below) anxious. With signals, the question of who wins and who loses often becomes obscure, but equally the person who communicates in signals as opposed to messages, is perceived as not having a clear position, but instead spineless and perhaps not capable of sticking up for his people, should the need arise. Again a massive demotivator.

Management Behaviour 3: Playing for Time
Sometimes it’s better to sleep on things, rather than trying to make a decision then and there. Many managers have literally taken this to their heart, counting on the fact that if delaying major (difficult) decisions, compromises have time to emerge that take the sting out of win-lose situations and the original issue will be superseded by more pressing matters, again serving the purpose of diverting people’s attention. Over time this has a tendency to create more and more confusion as some major decisions never get made, due to the endless playing for time and thus the risk of work being duplicated or even in some cases redundant, enters the picture. This of course another massive demotivator as nobody wants to be stuck working on something which will be deemed irrelevant 6 months down the line.

Management Behaviour 4: Preserving the Status-Quo
Last but not least managers often tend to see themselves as conservators or regulators of an existing order of things, the Status Quo, with which they personally identify and which provides them with rewards and a sense of who they are. The stronger the institutions and hierarchies that support a manager, the greater their self-worth, thus why change it? Thus to get things done AND preserve Status Quo it becomes a matter of tactics. Tactics of course involve both costs and benefits; they make organisations more bureaucratic and political on the expense of direct, hard work and close human bonds and relationships. This makes people feel like they are there not to do things in the best, most effective and rational way, but to prop up the ever-expanding system of individuals who reap greater benefits from the Status Quo than they do.

A great article written by Abraham Zaleznik for Harvard Business Review in 1992, titled Managers and Leaders – Are They Different? sheds a lot of light on this topic and at its time caused a furore in business schools up and down the country for suggesting that business leaders have much more in common with artists than they do with managers, but more on that soon!


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