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The Humility Shift

There’s a problem with management that people seem shy of addressing. Perhaps there’s a fear that by opening the can of worms, they won’t be able to control the aftermath.

As I see it, the problem is one of hierarchy.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you say, “isn’t hierarchy the definition of management? If you’ve got a problem with hierarchy, you’ve got a problem with the whole concept of management.”

To which I reply “Yes” and “Yes”

That’s why it’s a can of worms.

Firstly, I need to explain that I’m not a communist or an anarchist. I do believe that it is helpful to have people assigned to different roles and that some of those roles involve making decisions, planning, manoeuvring resources, setting goals and strategies.

Where I struggle is with the suggestion that this can only be done if the person assuming the management function sees themselves as superior to the people or things they are managing.

It all boils down to a simple mantra: When you manage people you don’t own them:

you owe them.

That’s the rebalancing that needs to take place.

 The concept of management has grown to becomes something far beyond what it actually needs to be and this has damaged many companies and relationships. For instance:

  1. we’ve grown up associating management with power, authority and superiority, rather than seeing it as a helpful (and often necessary) function designed to deliver a set of outcomes.

  2. we’ve accepted that managers need to be better in every respect than the people they manage: more intelligent, more skilful, more emotionally developed, more confident, more assertive, more resilient, more focused and more committed

  3. we’ve allowed the role of management to become a top-down policing function

  4. we’ve permitted the role of management to become the holy-grail that determines our worth if we are fortunate enough to reach those lofty heights

  5. we refer to prospective managers as ‘talent’ thereby dismissing everyone else as untalented in one unfortunate sweep

Little wonder, then, that newly appointed managers feel the surge of testosterone coursing through their veins when they are elevated to the management realm.

The challenge is to reframe our attitudes to management and help managers to fulfil their duties in ways that will elicit support, cooperation and commitment.

Managers have their own set of accountabilities and responsibilities, and a vital function to fulfil. They are a reporting convenience; a vehicle for breaking large parts into smaller and more digestible bite-size chunks; and they help to co-ordinate a variety of elements that might otherwise lack co-ordination. There’s no superiority inherent in the role, other than what we have allowed.

Managers owe a debt to the team they manage. The privilege they gain by virtue of their role is won on the backs of the team that delivers for them. Each team member (with their different contributions) is a vital piece in the company jigsaw. They, along with the manager, are equal parts in the whole. Without any one of them, the jigsaw is incomplete.

Managers owe their team respect, understanding, honesty, clarity, compassion, resources, direction, guidance, recognition. In return, they receive loyalty, dedication, professional integrity, engagement, responsibility. When managers act like they own their people, they receive none of this.

A dose of humility might be hard to swallow for managers who feel they’ve earned their stripes and now want the full benefits of their privileged position. But maybe we stand a chance with managers of the future, if we can rebalance their attitudes now.

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