Welcome to the 4th week in this series and the 7th guest blog post in response to the statement that “There is no such thing as Management”.
Today’s post comes from Meg Peppin (@OD_Optimist). Sharing her own experiences, I like the sense of balanced management versus unbalanced leadership her piece conveys. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Management, the new leadership
Amongst the writing about leadership we often read about authenticity and humility; I don’t believe that these are the preserve of those highest in the hierarchy, with the most seniority. Leadership can and does come from all levels within the organisation, although when I have worked with senior people who can inspire great things in others – they are both authentic and brave enough to be humble.
Somewhere there has been some contamination of leadership ideals; egos have been fuelled by huge financial gains, and the more money people have, the more they seem to want. When is enough? When the ego inflates, it feeds arrogance and pumps up self importance. Humility and authenticity – no room for these.
If we look at the banking catastrophe, I believe that the majority of people working in the banks leading in the slow and long build up to the noise of the crash were living with discomfort. They knew that something was wrong. They knew because they deal with the day to day, the face to face, the real work. Those at the top of the hierarchy discounted, dismissed, devalued those below them. This isn’t the preserve of the banks.
Hierarchy does not equate to leadership.
When working as a customer services manager myself, I remember a senior manager who taught me so much, who led me to achieve great things. He showed me the way, and then got out of the way. He managed with humility, honesty, toughness and acuity that saw right into you and it was like a floodlight was shone into every corner of my part of the business. He would come down most days in my first six weeks, check in with how I was doing, and then the killer question – he would ask me something about the operation. He knew how to get me; if I didn’t know, I would go and find out. He never lifted a finger to do any of the work, and he didn’t know how to access our systems, but he knew what questions to ask me, that pointed me to get to intimately know each part of my complicated, messy and full of manual work arounds, operation. After that first six weeks, he stopped coming to see me and talked to the team instead. He didn’t need to ask me anymore because I knew that function better than anyone. We achieved so much. He managed me/us. A director – managing!
I have heard countless senior managers say “they don’t do the detail”. I would challenge this and say, if you don’t do the detail, you don’t know your business. The banking crisis reinforces this where the Board, the managers at the top of the hierarchy didn’t understand the products.
The time we spend thinking, thinking with others, doing; these vary between roles but regardless of where you are in the hierarchy – if you’re not managing, what are you doing?
I think vibrant, confident, energised, focussed, knowledgeable and influential management is the core of any successful business.
Leadership belongs to us all.
Interesting thoughts. My first job (many, many years ago) was working in a small branch of a then up and coming hamburger chain called McDonald’s (this was before one opened in Norwich – I told you it was long ago). I still look back on the management team as some of the best I have met. They had virtually all started off working on the grills and tills like everyone else. They had gained their fives stars and white badge through hard work and attention to detail. (The one manager who was dreadful, who made a mess of everything and eventually was encouraged to leave, had not gone through the same basic training.)
Every few months a team of senior directors from the UK head office would make a surprise call – at the very start of the day when we were setting up the store, or late at night a few hours before close down. The first thing they did was walk round and check every detail – and then they would set to work helping out on every aspect of the the job (whether polishing the stainless steel cabinets or cleaning the loos or helping with the litter-sweep along the high street). They too, like our managers, demonstrated that they knew what we were supposed to know and could do what we were supposed to do.
They led by example – they were never rude or aggressive. If something was wrong (or not quite right) they would show us how to correct it or do it better with authority but without any malice. They made a particular point of serving on the tills because it helped them keep in touch with real customers – and as they never stopped reminding us: “The Customer is King, even if they are wrong.” I am still grateful to those people who taught me so much about the real world of work so early in my career.
Many thanks for adding to the story telling & perspective Huw. Apart from the personal impact, what strikes me in both of your experiences is that the senior “managers” knew the detail of the role/function or if they didn’t they knew the questions to ask to engage with you and support your performance.
It makes me think that when we talk about “doing the detail” we think of it as only being the task details…the process, etc. Instead, we should also think of asking the right questions as “doing the detail” too.
In fact, the more I think about it, in terms of this thing we call “management”, I wonder if asking the right questions is actually the best way of viewing “doing the detail”?
I think there is something in that David.
I used to have a discussion with another manager; we agreed we could manage any team – because we knew how to manage. (We both have had a lot of experience of managing different operations, so proven to some extent although never managed actuarial!). We were interested in teams, people, processes, systems, customers, and enthusiastic about doing things brilliantly – our common ground.
When I put that (we could manage anything) conversation in the context of this one I think an important factor was that we had both “done” enough detail to build up a level of knowledge to know when things looked right/not right etc. Yeah, asking good questions to help others think – a great way of doing the detail.