Monday 12 July 2010

Executive Coaching - Real Management

My Executive Coaching drive for 2010 has kept me very busy and I've been neglecting my readers, so I thought I'd share some of the insights we're finding with you. I hope you can find useful applications for them in your own life at work.

Executive coaching, you may recall, is for those who are building their own business and for those who manage the work of others.

With a £2m asset to manage, "Peter" came to me struggling to keep his head above water. After a chat, it became clear that one of his issues was his image of what being "in charge" ought to be. He felt that he needed his finger in every pie. If he wasn't personally involved in all that happened, how could he manage it? Since he was personally responsible for the hugely valuable asset - how could he leave anything to anyone else?

I see this a lot in my executive coaching. People get to be in charge by contributing as individuals well. When they get promoted they often don't fully grasp that they now have a new job which is entirely different in nature to their old one. They need to stop doing the old job and learn how to do the new one - those two ingredients are both key.

Let me explain.

You can manage a few people by adopting the "help me out" school of management. In this model, you're busy doing the stuff, and they stand around waiting for you to say "can you pass me that spanner?" or "how about you do this one while I do that?". If they don't do it quite right, it doesn't matter, because they're just helping out, and you can finish up for them. In this world, you get to feel better than them because you're the expert. You get frequent affirmations of your value and your superiority because you're surrounded by people who aren't as good as you. Job security and minions - life is sweet!

Then things get busier, and you're stretched a bit thinner. Now you're feeling less good about those around you who "can't get anything right", and you may struggle to keep them busy in the face of your own crushing workload. You may come to hate them for their "incompetence" and so now you're dealing with overt or suppressed aggression, and you may be stinking up the workplace with your increasing attitude problem. You may work longer to cope - evenings and weekends. You may take stuff home - but eventually, you'll crash and burn.

Fundamentally, organisations run on the "help me out" model of management are limited in the size they can grow to. The limiting factor is the manager's capacity to work extremely hard despite their staff.

Enter real management.

In this model, the manager's role is to build and maintain a machine whose components are people. These managers are not IN the machine - one of its cogs, they are OUTSIDE the machine - watching it carefully, adding cogs, moving cogs, oiling cogs, measuring how well the cogs are working together. If a good manager fell down and died, the machine would continue to run smoothly, because it is a well-designed, well-built machine. Organisations run on this management principle are infinitely scalable through a hierarchy of such managers.

That's a goal of course. Real managers in the real world are busy dedicated people. They'll usually have skills around what the machine does, but their key skills and contributions are:

* Understanding what the machine is there to do - clear thinking, open-minded
* Designing a machine which does that efficiently - creative, inventive, flexible
* Maintaining that machine and its performance in the face of possibly changing demands

Because the machine is made of people, a good manager will also be a first rate people person, which means they are:

* Someone with first class personal integrity, who can be trusted and respected
* Able to motivate people to bring their own gifts into the service of the machine
* Able to deal with conflict comfortably and efficiently

These management skills are always beneficial - whether the machine (organisation) you're managing is the staff canteen or a secret research establishment.

In Peter's case, we worked firstly, on embedding this new management model. That meant re-assigning his personal responsibilities to others, leaving him free to be a manager. Of course, telling someone they have a new task and making it a real-world fact can be a long journey or even a distant dream, so we also worked on Peter's delegation skills. There's a whole book to be written on how to delegate properly. Finally (so far) we looked at Peter's assertiveness. Many managers are conflict-averse, and this paralyses them in the face of un-cooperative staff. Organisations then crumble. An important thin g to learn is that you can be assertive without being aggressive. Shouting and swearing are not in any good manager's toolbox, but meetings, deadlines, job specs, honest discussions, and friendship are.

It's a journey. Rome wasn't built in a day, and Peter is re-building parts of himself as well as his organisation, and seems to be enjoying the process.

Are you a help me out manager? Are you struggling to delegate effectively? If so, I can help you turn your workplace into an exciting, growing, happy exploration for you and your team, and your boss will really notice the difference (he might even pay for your coaching).

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