Feeling shy as a junior manager? Or got a clumsy boss . . .

The embarrassment of supervision

I’ve just had a meeting with someone who had to evaluate my work, even though he is much less experienced than I am and was dazzled by my qualifications. He had the grace to apologise and did so with considerable charm and ease.

I might add that he holds important community positions outside work. In the course of the meeting I learned that he chairs his football club. There was no hubris about this either.  A mature man.  Did I say that he was younger than me too?

The rareness of big people

It is rare to find people who are comfortable overseeing others. Do you remember you first supervisory position? Do you remember how awkward you felt? In my first few weeks as a prefect at school, I actually practised some stern eye contact in the mirror.

It was such a nonsense, of course. This man’s genius was to acknowledge the awkward ‘social’ situation. Then he was able to walk through the evaluation criteria, some of which were manifestly laughable. But the job got done and in the process he earned my respect and importantly, though no one will thank him for it, he earned my loyalty to his organization.

Why don’t we train managers better?

It really is important to train managers before exposing them to scrutiny of their subordinates. Yet, it seems few firms do and managers wallow in their own insecurity.

Minimally, future managers need to role play likely scenarios. It is a bit like driving a new route. When you’ve driven it once or twice, you don’t have to think about directions. You can concentrate on the other traffic on the road. Then managers need training in giving instructions.

What the army teaches young lieutenants

A young infantry lieutenant is taught two things. First, how to plan the movement of troops through enemy territory. Second, how to prepare troops to move.

Taking the second, first, because it is shorter. While the lieutenant is preparing the order, they alert their subordinates that an order is coming “prepare to move out”.  This saves time when they have to get going, and gives the soldiers some feeling of control over their own lives.

The order itself is based primarily on whether they expect to be “in contact” with the enemy or not. The categories of situations would be different in other industries but a similar idea would apply.  What are the major situations that the team deals with?

Then lieutenants decide how to move their three sections, each headed up by a sergeant, in a leap frog fashion, one on high ground covering another that is moving to take another advantageous position.

When the lieutenant gives the order three more rules apply: First, show people the positions they must take. They should be able to see the positions. Second, give the whole order at once with everyone listening so they understand how their work fits into the whole. Third, take questions.

Always take questions.  The last points is so important and relates to the point I began with. Sergeants are normally much more experienced soldiers and leaders than lieutenants. As the King Abdulla of Jordan said when he addressed the House of Lords: he learned three things at Sandhurst: Listen to your sergeants. Listen to your sergeants. Listen to your sergeants.

Starting out as a manager

If you are starting out as a manager and are feeling self-conscious, put aside your awkwardness.  This isn’t about you.

Think of the task that needs doing by the whole team.  Begin with thinking about the conditions they will encounter (will they meet the enemy), look at who you have in your team, set targets for the whole team to move through the space and while about 1/3 of the team is under pressure, have the other 2/3 cover them.  Get everyone to the other side safely.

  1. Give people advance warning that a change is coming.  Get them together when you are ready and tell them the job.
  2. Where do you want to move to, when and why?
    1. What is happening – where is the enemy, what are the weather conditions, etc. (or the equivalent)
    2. How will the job be divided up?  Who will take the group forward and in what order?  How will we cover and support each other?
    3. What arrangements are in place if there is an emergency (the equivalent of air support and medical evacuation)?
  3. Remember to show people what you want. Keep it concrete.
  4. Ask for questions.

If you have followed this, I bet you no longer feel self-conscious and shy?

Succession Planning: Goodbye Baby Boomers, Hello Gen Y

Weak succession planning has led to weakness in the management chain

I was sitting in the office of a thirties-something – a young, dynamic and intelligent man.

We noted that in many firms there is a horrible gap between the Baby Boomers and the next level. Sometimes there is a gap of 20 to 30 years.  Do you see that gap in your company? Grey hair – a long gap – slightly inexperienced manager?

If there is any succession planning, it is certainly not evident.

Generational demographics

The breaks in the chain are largely a function of demographics – the number of babies who were born.

Baby Boomers, as the name suggests, are many. They are also used to dominating politics with their votes, and dictating taste with their purchasing power.

Gen X are few. Generally, while Boomers had 3 siblings, they had none. They are outnumbered by Boomers at least 2:1. Known as the latch-key kids, they are used to cleaning up the world after the Boomers have swanned-through. They are the unseen generation.

Gen Y are more numerous and are having more children than themselves.

Can we mend the breaks in the chain?

The gap between those in charge now, and those in charge tomorrow, is horrible. It even became an issue in the American Presidential election. “Obama is too young (47!) and has too little experience”, people cried. The gulf is much bigger in business.

How will the mantle of leadership be handed on from Boomers to Gen X or Gen Y?

I wanted to know how my young friend thought change would come about.

He smiled and said: “One day, one of them will go out to play golf. And his friends will follow.”

All over in day?

How will the mantle of leadership be passed from one generation to another in your industry? And what will be the consequences?

Chaos from lack of skill and exposure? A breath of fresh air?

What are the elements of succession planning with these unusual demographics before us?

How will the generation shift affect you?  Good or bad?  And if it is sudden, will it be in your favor, or not?

UPDATE:  Perhaps we can begin by not slagging off Gen Y, be reopening management training schools and having explicit policies to pass on the mantle of leadership?

5 steps for rapidly understanding a task!

Do you understand everything that everyone does?

About 5 years out of college, you will begin to take responsibility for work that you simply do not understand.  Imagine ~ you are running a project and the accountants are totting up your numbers and running off terms like cashflow and depreciation that you are not really sure of.

The IT boffins prattle away about bandwith and JSON.

Anyway you get the idea.  People can baffle you with rock science and you wonder sometimes whether they are just having you on!

How do you manage someone who knows a heap of stuff that you know nothing about?

 

You want to know

  • Why this person is in your team
  • Why are they critical to your operation (why is their knowledge and judgment essential)?

5 straightforward questions to follow what they do and evaluate their contribution

1. Explain!

2. Show me!

3. What’s next?

4. When will we finish?

5. What is my role here?

Elephants shall never forget me! (Explain, Show, Next, Finish, My Role)