Avoid your animal tendencies and be a great manager

Dec 22 2006 by Richard Maun Print This Article

Being a great manager requires people to be alert to their management style, or they could end up as a nightmare boss. Being alert can be straightforward, says Richard Maun, author "My Boss is a B@$T@*D". You just have to recognise some extremely unpleasant management styles, do exactly the opposite and remember one secret of successful management.

Most managers come to work to do a good job, but when we're stressed we can forget our learned behaviours, carefully honed on training days and outdoor survival courses. Instead we drop back into an archaic behaviour, developed during our formative years and deployed to protect us when the pressure is on.

We don't mean to bark at people, or stomp around the office like a two-year old having a tantrum. We don't mean to do these things, but most managers in my experience have done them at some point. Most of these people were not aware of their behaviour because they were not alert to the fact that their management style had shifted down from 'great' to 'rubbish'.

The easy way to remain as a poised, thoughtful manager is to be aware of what a nightmare boss looks like and to adopt the opposite approach. We need to catch ourselves in the moment, think about what we've just said and decide to do something different instead of carrying on.

Rule one in the big book of management states that managers and staff are all people. Thinking, feeling, complex organisms who bruise easily and bear grudges for longer than they might care to admit.

Forget rule one and as a manager you are incompetent and should immediately turn in your badge and your gun and resign from the corporate police force.

People who forget rule one can turn into a wild animal, like the ones that roam freely on the dusty Serengeti. They can become one of four basic animal types: a crocodile, a lion, an elephant or a meerkat.

Croc-bosses are tough to work for because they like to out-think you at every turn, which can result in your own brain fossilizing with under use. Crocodiles always have a cunning plan and they love messing with office politics.

If you play mind games with people, show sudden naked aggression and tend to bite first and ask questions later then you have croc tendencies. Avoid intrigue by talking openly about plans and encourage thinking in others by inviting them to offer suggestions and to consider options.

Lions love to strut around and show people their nasty sharp claws and their nasty sharp teeth. Their handshakes are bone crushing, they let you know who is in charge and they hate competition.

Misery loves company and if you work for a lion you will have plenty of it. If you're a lion boss, then stop telling people how great you are, stop scaring them with your aggressive attitude and stop pouncing on their work to find fault. You're a bully and you'll pay for it.

Crocodiles and lions are fairly common in a busy office, because aggression is a handy shortcut to get the task done. It avoids having to use real skill and thoughtfulness and so saves time.

Elephants are slab sided lumps who flap their ears and munch leaves and grass. If you're an elephant under pressure it means that you turn from being a large herbivore to a wild charging beast. People get squashed as you lash out to allocate tasks, or stomp round the office to find your latest scapegoat.

Elephants can run surprisingly fast and if you tend to leave a debris trail of flattened staff when responding to a crisis then that's your preferred style. Ponder the situation, ask for opinions and if you feel your emotions running high, take some time out and cool down.

At the opposite end of the size-scale to elephants are meerkats: bosses who bugger off at the first sign of trouble and scurry away to hide in the boardroom, where they cower beyond reach of mere mortal staff, leaving them to take key decisions, run their business and earn their pay.

Meerkat bosses are nervous people, living on a hair trigger, waiting to duck responsibility at the first whiff of danger. If you just love to delegate all problems away from you, or find that you disappear in a crisis then you probably have meerkat tendencies.

Instead of leaving your staff to cope alone, be honest about your fears and concerns and work collaboratively to build quick and effective solutions.

Be alert to the general nastiness of taking on an animal type and use this perspective to keep yourself grounded, rounded and professional. Then practice humility, which is the least used of all management styles.

All four animal types are developed out of a sense of grandiosity. Instead, be humble. Admit your weak spots, your worries and most importantly your mistakes. That's the real secret to success. People respect humility because it means that you respect them and their human frailties.

Doing this will keep you human, will keep you off the Serengeti and will keep you performing as a professional manager. Be humble, stay alert and avoid acting like a wild animal. Then you know you're a great manager.

My Boss Is A B@$T@*D is out now on Cyan Books


About The Author

Richard Maun
Richard Maun

Richard is a business coach and consultant, who helps individuals develop their skills and processes. He is also a Visiting Lecturer to Cranfield University and an Associate of the National School of Government.