Quite often these days, I hear in my mind the words of the man I guess you’d have to say was my first manager: my Dad. “Even when you’re right, it never hurts to cut the other guy a break,” was one that reverberates in my mind twenty years after his death. The thing is, my Dad was a very quiet guy. He didn’t tell me what to do very often, so when he did speak I found him worth listening to. At his funeral, a dozen people— former customers, Kiwanis buddies, colleagues from his volunteer work—came up to me with tales of how his quiet wisdom was an inspiration that helped them figure out how to act in their own lives.

My first manager in the software business was a man named Lewis Jackson. Lewis really didn’t have a lot of time to actually manage me. In those days, managers also sold in half a territory, and Lewis was going through a painful and time-consuming divorce at the time. But I learned a lot just by watching him. I observed his work habits, how he dressed and carried himself, and mostly how he treated people. I still feel grateful, twenty-five years later, for the kindness he showed my then-girlfriend and me when he came to visit in Boston. He gave me what he felt was most valuable given his time constraints, an example, and it paid off. His region was number one in the country and within two years two of us on his team were promoted to be his colleagues in management. Why bring up these stories? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what isn’t working in the current business climate, and I’ve come to the conclusion there is one major thing holding us back: hyperactive management. It started in the boom, believe it or not, when everyone became squeezed for time, when flattening company structures left most managers without a lot of support staff, and when venture capital-populated boards began to demand weekly—- even daily—-revenue updates.

Hyperactive management is an excessive focus on receiving goal updates at the expense of fostering creativity, enabling high morale, and exhibiting leadership. And it’s killing us! What people really want from their managers is a show of belief and trust so they can use their own brains and talent to help take the organization to new heights. But it is hard to inspire them if you’re too busy trying to control things. And as managers today, we’re not always given the choice. Even in companies where hyperactive management doesn’t occur, managers are forced to obsessively focus on the revenue stream and cutting costs. It’s healthy for managers to focus on revenue—especially in sales—but it’s still the wrong end of the telescope. If all your consciousness is on what you’re going to get, it can’t be on what you’ve got to give. And giving is what customers respond to.

The vicious cycle begins and perpetuates itself. There is an operational component to management, to be sure. One has to keep a handle on things and be able to track progress toward results. But our responsibility as managers is to be almost ecological about it. We need to put systems in place that tread lightly on our human resources and understand that it is our job to renew these resources, not deplete them. Not easy in an atmosphere in which we are expected, as managers, to do the impossible in an equally impossible short period of time. So how do we inspire our staff to run the race with us and help us win? Here are a few tips: Bad Stuff Doesn’t Have to Flow Downhill. Despite what the old cliché says, it is actually our job as managers to shield our staff from much of the craziness that comes from the C-level suite. Just because your manager stormed into a meeting with a tirade on what needs to be fixed, that doesn’t mean you have to race off and make everyone around you nervous. Why is it that many of us instinctively understand this in raising our children but we often forget it when managing people at work? Don’t Judge; Be Generous. Sure, on some level we will have to evaluate our people at intervals along the way. But in between times you have to love them unconditionally. Yes, with all their sloppy work habits, their bad syntax and grammar, their failures to be the models of perfection you were when you were doing their jobs. You may laugh, but the lack of that kind of faith and trust coming from managers these days is the main thing holding us back. It’s Your Karma, Baby.

Anyone who feels that what goes around doesn’t necessarily come around simply hasn’t been around long enough. Your staff is like water: squeeze them and flail around trying to grasp control and they will drown you. Lean on them in a positive way and they will help you float. When it comes to management, less is truly more. As it says in the Tao: “Understanding and being open to all things, Are you able to do nothing? Giving birth and nourishing, Bearing yet not possessing, Working yet not taking credit, Leading yet not dominating, This is the Primal Virtue.” Remember, the kindness you show and the faith you put in others will be remembered long after your current job ends, perhaps even long after your death. The rest— as we love to say in business— is overhead. See you on the path!

About the Author:  Jim Schaffer helps salespeople and management teams stay focused, get results and keep high morale— regardless of what may be going on around them. He is available to speak on this topic. For more information visit www.jimschaffer.com or call 617-332-9105.

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