Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What I've learned so far about management

I'm almost three months into my new position, a position that involves managing several lecturers. So, what have I learned about management so far?

An old Chinese proverb goes something like this:

If a king treats his ministers as his arms and legs, they will treat him as their heart and mind.

If a king treats his ministers as his cattle, they will treat him as a peasant.

If a king treats his ministers as grass and mud, they will treat him as an enemy.

I think that this applies just as much to managers as it does to rulers. So, with that in mind, here is what I have learned so far about managing people.

1) To manage others you must first manage yourself. You cannot manage other people's time and tasks if your own time is being taken up with tasks that you have allowed to accumulate. This also means that you need to control the tasks that come your way: if you need an hour of uninterrupted time to get several tasks done, then close your office door, put up a Do Not Disturb sign, and get them done. If you have too many tasks to do, then don't take on anything new until the task list is more manageable. If some members of your staff can do a particular task better than you, then delegate.

2) You have to be nice to the people you manage. If you are indifferent to them, or even bullying to them, you will fail. I actually knew this a long time ago, so I never even thought about trying this approach (also known as the Marquis de Sade school of scorched-earth management). Managers who try to manage through fear engender the hostility of their staff, and hostile staff love to see their manager fail. You must manage your own frustrations and anger (see point 1).

3) You have to be humble. An old saying goes something like "Humility means never getting a door slammed in your face... or ON your face". New Zealand culture is still quite egalitarian and particularly values humility. Arrogant managers will lose the support of their staff, and fail. Humble managers, managers who freely admit that they don't know something and defer to the staff who do, will win the support of their staff. You must admit it when you make a mistake. If mistakes are out in the open, then they can be fixed.

4) You must listen to your staff. Most of the time they know what they are talking about, and most of them will know how to do at least one thing better than you. Apart from the fact that listening is the nice, polite thing to do, it also lets you know who you can delegate particular tasks to.

5) You must lead from the front whenever you can. Anyone can tell others what to do, but if you want to be respected as a manager, you must show that you can do it too.

6) You must explain why you want someone to do something. If you are giving someone a task, then you must tell them why the task must be done, why you are giving it to them, and suggest how you think it could be done. If I tell my young daughter to do something "because I say so", she won't do it. If it doesn't work on a child, why would it work on an intelligent adult?

I'm sure I'll learn more about management as time goes by, and I'll share what I learn.