#33 Managing As You Like It!

by Steven Cerri on April 30, 2007

“It’s my comfort that’s most important!”

I have the belief that most managers either manage based on how they would like to be managed or they manage based on how they were managed early in their lives. And examples of this are everywhere. Here’s one.

I know a relatively high level manager who uses predominately, as a management style, the style he likes used on him. He manages using a relatively “hands-off” management style. He gives his direct reports a great deal of freedom. Sounds great doesn’t it. Who wouldn’t want to be managed this way?

Not so fast.

Some of his direct reports love this hands-off management style. Some don’t. Instead of getting support, guidance, critiques, input, advice, and direction, they get autonomy, freedom, and “empowerment”. Some of his direct reports feel that, in this way, they can show their true leadership capabilities. However, some of his direct reports complain that they feel as if he doesn’t care about their success, they feel abandoned.

So which is it? What should a manager do, cater to each whim of his or her direct reports?

The bottom line is that some of this manager’s direct reports are pleased that he is not heavily involved in their work. Some of his direct reports are not pleased with his hands-off approach. He, like most managers, uses the same management style regardless of the direct report and regardless of the situation.

This of course is no surprise. This is a natural tendency. Plenty, if not most of the managers use this “one size fits all” approach. Only in management we might call it,

“one management style fits every direct report and every situation”.

Now some young managers with little experience might think this is a great way to be managed. They might think, “Leave me alone and I’ll prove myself to you and the organization. Isn’t this the way managers become leaders… trial by fire.” Young managers may also believe this is the best way for them to manage their direct reports, as well.

I can guarantee you that with some experience, these young managers will change their minds.

When we think about the management style I’ve discussed above and the preferences of the direct reports, there are questions that quickly come to mind:

1. “Has the direct report asked the manager for closer supervision and more interaction?”

2. “Why is this manager so distant?”

3. “If the direct report wants more guidance, why isn’t the manager providing it?”

One of his direct reports asked why he was so hands-off in his management style. The direct report indicated that they would like more interaction with the manager.

He told this direct report that when he was a young employee and even a young manager, he didn’t want to be “micro-managed”. He didn’t like being managed too closely, and in fact, he felt most comfortable when his manager left him alone a lot. He still prefers to be managed that way by his current boss. The less interaction the better. Because he likes to have a lot of autonomy he thought that his direct reports would like that autonomy as well. In fact, he selected direct reports who would like being left alone. His management approach was to select people, place them in a position, leave them alone to do their best work, and if their best work wasn’t good enough, he’d replace them. This is the way he was treated, and and the way he wanted to be treated, and so it’s the way he decided to treat his current direct reports.

This answer is so common as to be applicable in probably 90% of management situations.

This manager also told a story that is very common among managers, it’s happened to me as well. This manager said that he once had a direct report who came to him with ideas every now and then. The manager would listen to the ideas and then give the direct report his ideas in return. He also often gave the direct report direction. This went on for some time, until one day the direct report told the manager that he didn’t like the manager giving him direction “all the time”. He didn’t like being “micro-managed”. (How many of us have heard that line?)

This was just the type of feedback necessary to reinforce the manager’s position that people should be given autonomy and not be managed too closely. And so, he was further convinced that giving people a good deal of autonomy was the best management style. He had evidence from his own direct report. There it was. He had just been told by his direct report that he was managing too closely. This sealed the manager’s choice of management style for years to come.

This is the process by which most managers develop their management styles. They have a preference; they use it; they sort for and look for those pieces of evidence that support our selection; their choice gets reinforced; and on and on it goes.

This situation is not uncommon. Most managers are faced with this situation and most managers handle it exactly the same way this manager has. They pick the management style that is most suitable and comfortable to them, to how they want to managed… and they do not take into account the preferred management style of the direct reports or the best management style for the situation.

I propose a very different solution, as follows…

“I don’t care about the preferred management style of the manager; pick the management style that is most suitable to the direct report AND the task being performed.

A manager need not cater to the whims of his or her direct reports. Neither should a manager stick with one management style regardless of the circumstances. A manager should be flexible enough to select the best management style based on the situation, the context.

I call this adjustment to the situation or the context, “Contextual Definition©”. Contextual Definition allows the manager to select the best and most effective management style based on the situation and the employee not on the manager’s comfort. It is a much more effective and efficient approach. More on Contextual Definition© in future blogs.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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