Management Must Be LearnedBy: Susan Dunn
Management must be learned. It doesn’t follow from knowledge of your field or technical skills. It isn’t more of the same, it’s radically different.
People who move into management have no idea what it entails, or they probably wouldn’t take it. Accustomed to relying on their own skills as proof of the pudding, they’re suddenly responsible for something over which they have no control – how others do their jobs. Instead of your career riding on how well you do your job, your career is suddenly riding on how well other people do their jobs.
It’s a false conception that management can be learned on-the-job, unless you want expensive failures involving the most important asset to your business, your people. Intelligent managers, those with EQ as well as IQ, can and will learn-on-the job, but it takes time, and they’ll learn by making damaging mistakes you can’t afford that could have been prevented by education.
Being an effective manager is one of the hardest jobs there is. When I read articles about managers, I want to say, “You ought to try it!” I’m reminded of the minister I watched flub up part of the service who then turned to the congregation and said, “This is harder than it looks.” Sitting on the outside and taking pot shots is easy. We all have the wisdom of the retrospectroscope. Doing the job takes a massive set of skills that do not follow from expertise in your former field.
Emotional Intelligence. Managing is one of the most “emotional” jobs there is. From Excuse of the Month Club, to I Don’t Know How, to How Come I Do All the Work and She Gets the Promotion, to I’ll Say ‘Yes’ but I Mean ‘No’, to Turn Your Back and I’ll Bully So-and-So, you are dealing with emotions – yours, theirs and mine. Understanding the emotions of yourself and others and being able to manage them is what management is all about.
I’m thinking of an incident I observed the other day. The boss came in Monday morning chewing nails. Long story, but involved girl friend problems for this newly divorced, emotionally floundering, narcissistically wounded individual. He proceeded to chew on the staff over everything that crossed his path. For an hour or two, the manager went around smoothing feathers, but then he himself fell prey to the random acts of destruction.
Four hours down the line, a head on a plate was demanded, and the lowest man on the totem pole was ordered fired. The s*** had run downhill, with no one to stop the course, and everyone scrambling for a position. Could the manager have saved the day? If so, it would’ve taken a lot more skill than he had.
The lowest man on the totem pole is certainly expendable in pure resource terms, but the low morale generated will last a long time. The lesson learned is that when the boss gets mad, a head will roll, and CYA becomes entrenched. The underlying fear-mentality escalates, along with panic, and panic makes everyone stupid. There is also the time and money involved in interviewing, hiring, and training someone
This is a typical case in that everyone involved was doing their job well enough. So that’s not enough. Managers continually have to deal with morale, attitude, motivation and crises. When someone gets divorced (like this boss), there will be ramifications. Likewise deaths, moves, depression and other mental health issues, financial problems, physical illnesses, and then the general push and shove of people together – jealousy, backstabbing, arguments, freeloading, passing the buck, disrespect, gossiping, bullying, hoarding and so forth.
The hardest part to me is that the manager is in the middle – the place the psychologists recommend you never be. You’re caught between two forces – your employees and the boss. You often must translate back and forth, interpret, and carry messages.
There are your own emotions to consider, as being in the middle is the hardest place to be. If you don’t have a hold on your own emotions, you become a feather in the wind. The last person to talk to you, or the most emotional person, or the most rational person, will be the one who wins. If you don’t know what you think and can’t manage your emotions, you’ll think whatever passes your way. This is no way to make decisions. EQ is the interface between intellect and emotion, and both are required.
Taking someone with no management or EQ training (theory and applications) and expecting them to figure out how to manage won’t work. As one writer put it, “Maybe throwing a kitten in a shark tank isn’t the best way to teach the kitten to swim.” Continuous training opportunities must be available. In the case of Emotional Intelligence, it takes months, and coaching is highly recommended to accompany it.
Management must shade into leadership, and leadership isn’t “inborn” either. Corporations are fond of hiring people who give the impression of charisma, perhaps because they haven’t seen enough sociopaths, narcissists and other aberrant personality disorder types who appear to have charisma as well. There’s more than one example of a sociopath outwitting their psychologist, even marrying them, so why should an ordinary HR person be any different. They’re “confidence men” (or women) and good at what they do.
Why is this leadership ability so important? What happened in Abu Ghraib is a good example. I’ve been asked “Why?” I think, and I think I’m not alone, that someone wasn’t paying attention. Whoever’s watch it was, it wasn’t. The mob mentality, well documented and always ready to take over when people get together in situations where normal constraints on behavior aren’t present, took over. People behave differently in a group than they ever would alone. Behavior can sink to a terribly low level. “The Ox Bow Incident” is a classic novel on this subject. So is “Lord of the Flies.”
What occurred in the prison has been termed “dehumanization” and “torture,” neither of which has to involve knives, chemicals or literal bodily harm. When interviewed by the New Yorker, Bernard Haykel, a profession of Middle Eastern studies at New York University explained that “homosexual acts are against Islamic law and it is humiliating for men to be naked in front of other men. Being put on top of each other and forced to masturbate, being naked in front of each other – it’s all a form of torture.”
If it took a university professor to explain why this particular act was torture, how did the soldiers figure it out? Where there’s a will, and no supervision, there’s a way. Two minutes in another culture and they figure out the most humiliating thing you can do.
The manager’s leadership job is to keep everyone too busy to engage in those forms of torment and torture, to coordinate their energies into constructive behavior, to strengthen the weak and weaken the strong, to level the personality playing field, to bring out the best in each and allow each to flourish, and a hundred other very difficult human behavior modification chores. It’s like leading an orchestra. Only harder.
And don’t forget to throw in today’s multicultural work force. The only way to deal with this is with Emotional Intelligence. It’s no coincidence there’s interest in EQ all over the world. As someone who trains and certifies people to teach EQ globally, I marvel continually at how emotions are the universal language and the thread through it all. When we talk about EQ, individuals on the call may be from New Zealand, China, Malaysia, the UK, Singapore, and the US, yet we understand each other perfectly and we’re all dealing with the same problems.
Management, like EQ, is a long learning experience and the two go hand-in-hand.
© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2004
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