Several of my clients have been sufficiently successful in their careers that they are required to manage other people, even when, in some cases, they did not want to have to manage others. In discussing with clients the difficulties and issues of managing other people, and in my own experiences managing others, I have learned that there are at least four concepts which must be used and balanced to be successful managers. These are really two sets of opposing positions that must be balanced. Integrity must be balanced with flexibility and responsibility must be balanced with authority.
During a time when I was managing over 50 people working in several different groups at many different levels of hierarchy, those I managed cared mostly about my willingness to hear their needs and attend to them a way they could trust. This required me to be as transparent as I could with them about my plans for their jobs, their programs, and their future at the organization, while allowing their thoughts to influence my decisions without controlling them. I also learned that what others want is to know you’ve “got their back” if the need arises, and yet you are in control of what they cannot control.
When managing others, success requires that those we manage trust that we are who we say we are (integrity) and yet will accommodate their needs or modify the rules of working relationships when it is necessary to accomplish a mutual task or meet their professional needs (flexibility). Too much flexibility and it looks like there is a lack of integrity—they may ask themselves how far you are willing to flex the rules, and whether you are willing to compromise your principles in the process. Too much integrity without flexibility can look like unreasonable adherence to rigid principles.
Probably the worst thing we can do to someone we manage is to set them up for failure. The easiest way to do this is to give someone the responsibility to carry out a set of tasks, but not provide them with the requisite authority to accomplish the tasks for which they are responsible. I’ve had this happen to me, and it is a really difficult place to be. It is in fact, not only a setup for failure, it is in some senses asking the impossible, which can eventually only lead to failure. Of course, it is also often true that those who are given both the responsibility and the requisite authority fail anyway, because they either didn’t know how to utilize the authority or were simply not competent to handle the responsibility. That is a problem with delegation to the appropriate people, not a problem with creating impossibility through poor management. Good management, at a minimum, gives others a chance to succeed by supporting them in their responsibilities, including the delegation of adequate authority. This can be difficult because it can mean giving up some of your own authority to others so they can get their jobs done.
If we can remember just these four principles, we will be able to succeed in managing others at work. More importantly, if we implement our management decisions taking into account these four principles, those we manage will want to work with us and for us, and we will in turn feel much better about our own management style, and our relationships with our co-workers. It comes down to fairness. We can hardly help but be fair to those who work for us if we use these four principles in tandem, which requires us as managers to constantly ask ourselves how we need to adjust our approach to keep all four principles in the right balance at all times. Finally, if we can find ways to adhere to these principles, we will be able to ask with impunity those who manage us to consider applying these same principles in their working relationships with us.
As a family therapist, I also wonder whether application of these principles by parents to their children makes some sense. But that’s another blog for another day.
Blog entries and other materials available on Jupiter Center’s website are intended to stimulate thoughts and conversations and to supplement therapy work with Jupiter Center clients already in therapy. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness, you are strongly encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional. For further information about this blog, or Jupiter Center, contact Michael Kinzer at 612-701-0064 or michael(at)jupitercenter.com.