At a recent workshop I was conducting, an attendee named Susan was bemoaning her supervisor of five years. “This guy is such a Type-A driver that he pays no attention to the differences among us employees. He treats us like we’re all from the same cookie-cutter and he makes us read books that he thinks will help us improve.”
She then continued: “He’s so caught up in his own importance that he really doesn’t know what we do. He thinks because he can close the door to his office and get a lot of work done, that we should be able to do the same. But we don’t have doors! We’re in short cubicles and everything we do is driven by customer walk-in traffic. It’s like he’s blind as a bat!”
Susan said a mouthful. I carefully considered her situation for a few days after the workshop.
In reality, not all “Type-A’s” are like that, but managers like the one she described are dangerous to the workplace. They unintentionally destroy morale and initiative, even though they think they’re improving it.
Let me address Susan’s comments in two parts: First, the one-size-fits-all mentality, and second, not truly understanding your employees’ work roles.
One Size Does Not Fit All
One positive of many Type-A/Theory X managers is that they are passionate about staying on top. They often read the latest books on business success and then have the rest of their staff read these books. The problem is that when these books get passed down to the staff, the comment from the manager is usually, “This is what we need to be doing around here.” The implication is that it’s the employees’ responsibility to make things happen just like they do in the book.
This is an ineffective mindset (and I’m being polite).
I admire these managers because they want to improve their workplace and their company. But over and over I see a “do as I say, not as I do” behavior. These managers want everyone else to change, yet somehow they forget that people tend to follow as they have been led.
One Type-A manager I know once told me he didn’t want his people bringing problems to him. He said, “I hire people to take charge of situations and make things happen. If they can’t do that, I don’t need them around.” I remember looking back at him and saying, “If they’re supposed to take charge and make things happen, then why do they need you?"
To be effective, those in charge must understand the strengths and preferences of their direct-reports. I believe it was Stephen Covey who said “treat people the same by treating them differently.” In essence, working to get optimal performance and commitment from people (treating them the same) means first finding out their uniqueness, and then working with each person in that unique way (treating them differently).
Additionally, if the manager is going to pass on a book for others to read, he or she better first have examined it for practical application to that unique workplace. What works in one company is not always a solution for all companies. Specific application and implementation must carefully be considered. There also needs to be at least a semi-formal dialog on the book’s content that includes a look at how, if at all, the principles can be incorporated into the company’s culture and policies.
Understanding Work Roles
This ought to go without saying, but managers need to take a good look at what their people’s workdays are really like. I recommend that all managers spend some time working in the various levels of their organization. The reason? Managers quickly forget the details of what it’s like to make things happen on the “shop floor,” wherever that shop floor is. I strongly recommend managers get in there on at least an annual basis to roll up their sleeves and work where the rubber meets the road in their organization. This should not happen during a “busy” time just because the company needs extra hands, but during a time of “regular” activity. The insights gained will open eyes wide and help greatly in decision making, as well as managing the workload of direct-reports.
With better “employee” awareness, better decisions are made, and your employees speak glowingly of your wisdom instead of griping about you behind your back at training workshops.