In modern businesses managers are expected to be "servant leaders" and "systems thinkers". But nobody…
We're under attack! In just one week I read at least three accounts of people telling me that my job (as a manager) is on the line. Paul Graham wrote that people aren't meant to have a boss. Max Pool, of Codesqueeze, observed that managers are like clumsy storm troopers. And the Dutch paper Intermediair this week reported that managers are disappearing rapidly.
What's happening? Have I become superfluous? Can I finally clean my desk and leave our employees to organize themselves out of their problems? That would be a dream come true! But before flying off to Aruba to become a full-time blog writer, sipping Virgin Coladas on a beach, let's see which activities I would have to cancel this week…
I am sometimes accused of having too much trust in people's self-organizing capabilities. And that's true. When asked about my "management style", I tell people that I'm a gardener. I take care of good soil, but I don't do the growing. I simply like to watch things grow by themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes I need to intervene to weed out the stuff that adds no value or causes trouble. That's when gardening becomes hard work. And believe me, some organizations need a lot of weeding.
John C. Maxwell, in 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, put it like this:
Leaders define and change direction
Managers maintain direction
Leaders invite people to follow them through influence
Managers make people do things through power
I like being a leader and I dislike having to be a manager. When I'm being a manager it means that people aren't handling their jobs as well as they could. The less I am a manager the better! I prefer to keep myself busy with other more interesting stuff, like the direction we should take as an organization. I present goals and I expect people to be able to figure out how to get there, solving any problems along the way. And many people do! And when someone asks for help, I help.
The problem is, some people just don't realize they have problems. And worse, some people don't realize they are creating problems! That's when I intervene. And yes, that's when I am a manager. Are people not meant to have a boss? Sure, but they also aren't meant to demoralize their co-workers. Are managers like clumsy storm troopers? Of course, but some of the non-managers are like incomprehensible wookiees. Are managers disappearing? That would be great! Because it would mean that everyone was able to solve their own problems, instead of making new ones. But given the state of affairs today, I'm afraid my plane to Aruba will have to wait a while.