There was a period of time in my career when I had a role as a visiting lecturer at Manchester Business School and was primarily involved in presenting to groups of Chief/Senior Executives of SMEs.
One of the subjects was Management Style and I realised pretty quickly that with twenty or so top people in a wide range of businesses in front of me, I had fertile ground on which to enhance my own knowledge of how people manage their companies.
Since that time it has become evident that management styles have changed or at least are becoming more collaborative and inclusive.
Of course, this is not a surprise. The norm years ago was that of the “boss” who laid down the law, who directed pretty well everything in the business and who brooked no dissent or challenge.
It was the era of authoritarianism and overall, it sort of worked. It wasn’t particularly popular or attractive but if it worked then the business flourished and people were gainfully if not particularly enjoyably employed, then there wasn’t much to cavil about.
Things have, of course, changed dramatically since that time and there is less talk of “management” and more of “leadership” with all its ramifications.
Naturally some of the old habits die hard and some leaders still find it difficult to trust their people completely. The situation can and does arise where the leader who has been reading all the right books and listening to all the right speakers, suddenly has a rush of blood to the head and decides that a task is far too important to allow anyone to accomplish it without total direction.
The hard fact is that if we think like a hammer, after a while everything tends to look like a nail.
This is the time when the leader decides that whatever is happening, it is far too important to risk some underling taking responsibility and achieving something as a consequence. Rather the leader feels it necessary to dive in, take charge, exhibit some heroic leadership and solve the problem for all to see and wonder at.
It is the hammer/nail syndrome at work and it is toxic.
It contributes nothing to the level of trust (in both directions), nothing to the desire of people to learn, to take responsibility and subsequent action, nothing to any feeling of self-esteem and usually very little to the likelihood of a successful outcome.
The old form of conventional management structure was a triangle, apex uppermost, with the leader at the apex and the troops across the base.
This is the conventional top-down structure with the “boss” atop the whole triangle and from which all things emanate. It is the “I pay then to work, not to think” attitude that sadly has not entirely died away yet.
If however we rotate the triangle so that the apex points downwards and the base is now at the top, great things can ensue.
For example, it has been wisely said that the most important people in the business are the customers so it makes sense to place them at the top where they can be properly cared for by the people who are tasked to serve them.
That means that the leader is now at the bottom of the pile and instead of directing events, asks that wonderful and incisive question, “What can I do to help you achieve success for the the business, the community and yourself?”
In other words the role of the leader is not as a hammer to batter any nail that is around, but rather is in a supportive role that offers responsibility, decision making and action to those who are prepared to accept them.
Trust the people. Don’t batter them down with instructions and them complain if something goes amiss. Steve Jobs said it is madness to appoint great people and then tell them what to do. Better we should expect them to tell us what to do.
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