As a management graduate and a middle manager, I have learned about – and experienced – many different management styles: autocratic, paternalistic, democratic, etc. But I want to add one to the list: hyperactive management.
Hyperactivity can be described as a physical state in which a person is abnormally and easily excitable or exuberant. They display strong emotional reactions, impulsive behavior, an inability to make wise decisions and solve problems effectively, a short attention span and a tendency to make a lot of noise.
As a middle manager in a public organization in a developing country, I gradually became aware of a particular breed of senior manager who displayed similar hyperactive symptoms – often with devastating results.
1. A Burning desire to do everything all at once
The first thing about hyperactive managers is that they tend to be young and full of energy – but they aren't able to manage this energy or focus it in a most disciplined way.
Hyperactive managers want to change the world overnight. As far as they are concerned, everything that came before them was wrong and needs to be swept aside.
Managers like this, whatever their position in the organization, seem to believe that their job and their very being is "mission-critical".
To illustrate, I remember a 32-years-old middle manager in a management consultancy who had been appointed thanks to his political connections rather than his brilliant track record. No sooner had he got through the door than he announced that he wanted to increase revenues from $1.5 million in 2008 to $10 million in 2009.
Of course, this wasn't so much an ambitious goal as a totally unattainable one – and plenty of people told him so. But anyone who tried to warn him about the risks were accused of being lazy and blind to the huge opportunities that were just waiting to be fulfilled.
After just a year, of course, their concerns proved to be correct. In fact, far from increasing revenues, our star manager had presided over a decrease of more than half a million dollars.
And what was the reaction of our hyperactive manager to this catastrophic performance? Not only did he refuse to take any responsibility for his decision, but he also fired all those who had warned him of trouble ahead.
2. The undisciplined pursuit of 'more'
A second problem with hyperactive managers is that they can't be satisfied with what they've got. So if they find themselves in a company with a limited portfolio of products or services, they can't help trying to expand the portfolio, however unwise this might be.
This leads to what Jim Collins termed "the undisciplined pursuit of more" - new products, services, strategies, processes and activities – in areas in which the company lacks experience or know-how.
Take the newly-appointed 29-years-old manager of a public publishing corporation which produced about 100 books a year on management topics. After just a month in the job, he decided that what he called "this childish volume of work" wasn't worthy of his ambitious expectations and that he wanted to expand the company's output.
Despite all advice to the contrary, he insisted on entering new fields such as finance, insurance, health and even children's books, increasing output from 100 to 400 titles a year. He also wanted to established an on-line sales operation (even though the company didn't even have a website, let alone any e-commerce experience).
Suffice to say that not only the bottom-line did not go up, but also declined as such a strategy entailed a set of new requirements which were out of the publisher's feasibility and contributed to loss.
3. Hyper-centralization of decision-making
In the light of the first two symptoms, it's hardly surprising that hyperactive managers show little inclination to delegate. In fact, they try to centralize decision-making as far as possible and remove as much autonomy from more junior managers and employees as they can.
Command-and control is the preferred method for the hyperactive manager - to put it simply, they are akin to political dictators.
Like dictators, they aren't interested in others' points of view and so they prefer to be surrounded by action-oriented middle managers who simply obey without asking "why" or "what".
Of course, hyperactive management is really just a mixture of some defects of other – equally flawed - management styles. But the result is the same. Left unchecked and unchallenged, the hyperactive manager can quickly lead an organization beyond the point of no return.