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The Poetry of Management

As an undergraduate English major, one of the requirements was to take a poetry writing class. My professor was Roger Dickenson-Brown, who brandished a cane and wore a cape. (Hey – it was the 70’s and everyone was into’ the look’ of the “English Professor.”) Half the class were aspiring poets who were already writing poetry, or so they thought. 

In the first class, Professor Dickenson-Brown provided a framework which I have continued to find useful in my life and in working with clients, even though we are definitely not poets

We learned the forms, meter, and structure of poetry. Whether studying Aristotle, Keats, or Jeffers, the goal was to learn the framework of the various schemes so we would focus on understanding them.

First we would successfully learn how to write a sonnet, ode, haiku or limerick AND we would be able to tell them from one another. Only then would we be able to flesh them out with our own unique words, metaphors, and creativity. The emotional drivel, the diatribes and the potential talent would all be forced to operate within the formal arrangement of the assigned poetic form.

I have come to think of management skills in much the same way. First you learn a framework to understand the theories, strategies, models, and behaviors that go into the skill sets that an effective manager needs. Then you can apply your own unique creativity to solving interpersonal challenges. The basics of management don’t change much from year to year.  Most organizations, regardless of size or industry, want the professionals who manage others to have:

Interpersonal Skills – A good manager likes and respects people and has the ability to deal with different temperaments, backgrounds and educational qualifications. Social awareness informs the understanding of what motivates team members to bring out the best in them. A manager should possess good team building capabilities to build relationships with employees and be fair in dealing with them.

Communication Skills – A manager or supervisor should be able to explain the organizational vision as well as their own team vision and the strategies to successfully accomplish both.  It is also essential to be a good listener, respecting the views and opinions of others. This skill set is the springboard for trust, strong relationships, and good decisions.

Decision-making Skills/Problem Solving Skills – The ability to think quickly, with good critical thinking and problem solving skills, is essential to handling the demands of the job and making decisions that benefit the organization. Managers make a wide variety of decisions every day, and the ability to stay calm is important.

Leadership Skills – Leaders motivate and guide their employees. They make sure that they have the right resources to get the job done. Effective leaders understand the strengths and development needs of employees and allocate resources and support accordingly. The ability to empower employees to act independently is critical.

Technical Skills –  A manager should be well-versed in the usage of the tools, technology and equipment needed to get their job done and help others get their jobs completed. .

Time Management Skills – Effective management requires the ability to develop strategies to plan, delegate, coach, and handle the conflicting demands of the business including meeting deadlines. The ability to prioritize and focus is essential.  The boss should be doing only the things that they can do and delegating the rest to develop talent.

Conceptual Skills – The ability to see the big picture and view the organization from a wider perspective is important. The ability to analyze and study a complex situation deeply and develop strategies for the smooth functioning of the organization can influence the decision-making process.

So where do people learn the basics of management? They used to learn these skills in management training programs, usually early in their career. A boss developed employee by informing, teaching, and training.  They mentored, provided feedback, helped people learn how to get to the next level, develop acumen, and helped with the improvement of skill development.

That was then. Today 

Good professional fit is often forced. Many people have been thrust into positions because it’s the best way to pay them more, whether or not they are ready. They don’t yet have what’s required to excel in their position so everyone crosses their fingers and hopes for the best. They may not understand or want to develop talent since often they are focused on their own advancement instead of what their employees might need to be successful. Coaching on the part of the boss isn’t only vanishing; there is less of it around to be passed along to others.

It takes time to train. People seem to be taking on more and more without giving up much so the amount of time to actually train employees well is limited. One hour or more a week multiplied by a few people and big chunks of time are lost.

Autonomy and initiative are highly valued. The impact of recessions, layoffs, downsizing, and maximizing shareholder profits have left many organizations aiming to do more with less.  Many people express a desire to be their ‘own boss,’ innovate and become the next Sara Blakely or Bill Gates. This has resulted in more people than ever who start their own firms, some by choice and others by necessity.  Entrepreneurs, small business owners, consultants who might have worked in a large organization now are left to fend for themselves.

The result? Supervisors and Managers are doing the best they can with what they have. If it’s insufficient, no one seems clear how to close the gap.

If you want to identify the key skills that are lacking so that you can provide targeted training to close the gap more efficiently, I’ve got a suggestion.

Identify what your successful managers and supervisors are doing differently that others are not. Once you figure that out, you’ve got your learning objectives for training. Firms like American Express have done this and now have a much better idea of what the top-performing managers are doing:

  • ·Performance results are posted often and in a comparative context.
  • ·Monthly one-on-one sessions are held with team members
  • ·One-on-ones are personalized and documented
  • ·Feedback and praise are given often

And – a proactive plan is created for these points and focused primarily on getting things done. Managers take pride in their coaching ability and are guided by the legacy they want to leave behind. The behaviors of your best leaders, managers and supervisors may differ from American Express.

However, if you haven’t examined what those skills are and can’t articulate clearly what they are to new managers, you can’t support, train, or develop them to support and develop the talent they manage.

It’s not unlike badly written poetry. Without the knowledge and demonstrated competency in the basic skills, people can end up with plenty of behaviors, but it doesn’t mean they are effective ones. There is some debate about the worst poem ever written though William McGonagle’s work gets the most votes by those ‘in the know.’ Many people can tell you about the worst boss they have ever had but if some of them are working in your organization, perhaps I can be of service.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 at 12:53 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.