#12 The Round Peg In…

by Steven Cerri on October 19, 2006

I want my one management style!

Good evening!

I want to pick up on this blog where I left off on the previous blog… basically,

“What is necessary in order to manage to get results.”

Recently, I’ve been reading the new book by Bob Woodward, “State of Denial”. Now my intention is not to get into politics. This blog is not about politics, it’s about management. The book has an interesting example of management and managing for results, which is the topic of this specific blog.

The part I’m thinking about takes place on page 355. It recounts an episode when Andy Card, who at the time was George Bush’s White House chief of staff, is talking to President Bush at Camp David after Bush’s re-election to a second term. Andy Card is tired of government service and would like Bush to replace him. He is talking to Bush about the typical event that takes place when a president wins a second term; the removal of the old staff and the introduction of a new team to go forward with the second term. Andy Card is trying to convince Bush that it is time to get a new chief of staff and Card has compiled a series of candidates that he wants to discuss with the president.

Here is where the interesting part comes in. Card begins to list off names but does so by categorizing them into three “management style” categories as follows:

“The first type of White House chief of staff was a micromanager—tight control, someone who would pronounce that no person, no piece of paper could go to the president without the chief knowing and approving. They both knew that the model for this type was former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, the well-known imperial, blustery chief of staff in Bush senior’s first three years as president.”

“The second type was a prime minister type—a Hill operator, deal-cutter, negotiator and policy person who could handle the Congress, the media and the world.”

The third and final type would be a facilitator—doing what the president wanted, keeping the cabinet and staff focused on the president’s agenda. That was Card’s type.”

Now, the point I want to make and the most interesting point of this page in the book is that managers get a “reputation” of having a certain management style. Andy Card is clearly acknowledging that different situations require different management styles. And different people come “already prepped” with a specific management style. Also implied in this discussion is the idea that people don’t change their management styles. The goal is to “match” the situation to the person. Match the best management style for the situation to the preferred management style of the person. It’s the old “match the round peg to the round hole.”

The same situation is evident in the Hewlett Packard debacle. Carli Fiorina was considered to be the necessary CEO for HP when she took over the leadership role. By the time she was ousted, the consensus had changed. Now what the company needed was a hands-on manager, like Mark Hurd. So the board moved one peg off the board and brought in another, different shaped peg. It’s as if when Carli joined the need was a round peg for a round hole. Then the circumstances changed. The business changed. The hole went from being round to being square. So the board decided they need a square peg for the now square hole.

This is very much the old school of management thinking. People have their preferred and perfected styles and they fit certain circumstances and they don’t fit other circumstances.

Frankly, I think this is outdated, erroneous thinking. Circumstances are always changing and they are going to be changing at an ever more rapid rate. If companies have to keep changing managers and leaders every time the environment or the business changes, we are going to have a long parade of new leaders (and of course, that is exactly what we see in some companies).

The goal is to get managers who can shift their management and leadership style to accommodate the changing and shifting situations. What we need are managers and leaders who aren’t “married” to one management/leadership style. We need managers and leaders who are flexible in behavior and solid in values and ethics.

This applies directly to technology management. Many technology managers have their preferred management style and they use it in all circumstances. They might prefer a very directive, authoritative approach and they use it everywhere even when a coaching style would be more effective. Or they might prefer a consensus management style and they use it everywhere, even when a directive approach would work better. Or they might prefer a coaching style and they use if everywhere, even when the best style might be a consensus approach. Are you beginning to see the pattern here? And you probably know managers who have a preferred style and they use it in all situations. In fact, perhaps all the managers who you’ve come in contact with have a preferred and consistent style regardless of the circumstances.

I believe the single-minded, one management style fits all approach is not useful, not effective, and is not for our next generation of technical managers. It is time that our new technology managers be flexible enough to adapt to the situation so that they can be most effective. Whether you are the White House chief of staff, the CEO of HP or a middle manager in an IT department working with people around the world, you should not be the “constant in the system”. You should be the most flexible component in the system and therefore, the most influential.

I’ll write more on this topic on Monday. Have a great weekend.

Be well

Steven Cerri

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