Management development - damned if you do and damned if you don't?

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Kim Coe, CEO of the The How2 Group, looks at the main obstacles to good management: arrogance, stupidity and fear.

Let me state right at the outset that I believe every corporate failure and every corporate success is brought about by Management.

Yes, there are enormous influences and pressures created by circumstances, markets and competitors but these are never powerful enough to bypass the will of Management, as countless case histories and business stories have proved time and time again.

For Management Trainers and Developers, this then is the ‘holy grail’: to effect change and increase the performance of managers beyond the ingrained beliefs, attitudes and perceptions held by this ‘mighty group’ who direct the lives of others but are generally less inclined to have their own lives similarly influenced (exceptions aside for the moment).

Until fairly recently, it used to be that management training could draw and rely upon accepted approaches in people management, ranging through everything from ‘principle centred leadership’ to ’change management’ and ‘the one-minute manager’ but current times are revealing that these set routes and procedures are generally creating ever-diminishing returns, partly due to disappointing outcomes and partly due to over familiarity with the form, in my view.

If so, the challenge then is to somehow make a greater difference to managers by getting under their skin as individuals as it were, like we have never done before.

The fact is we all know that management training and development could have given rise to the phrase “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” except that we now have to take a position that says “if there’s no drinking, then there’s no point” and hold fast to that commitment even in the face of opposition, disinterest or cynicism.

Getting under the management skin

I have personally worked in management development for twenty years now, across various countries and have always tried to get closer to the heart of the management issues, as a point of understanding better their needs and as a means of developing my own abilities.

I don’t claim to have all or even a fraction of the answers but I have attained some pretty solid points of view along the way, which you may or may not agree with, like or dislike.

In any event, I maintain these are not management issues of nationality, only of race: the human race.

Can the UK manage?

The fact the UK Government has decided to bring in an American business guru to asses the state of UK management would be quite amusing were it not so potentially destructive, not least given the recent track record of American management around poor leadership and even criminal negligence that has dominated the world’s business press in recent months, to say nothing of the decrease in many American companies’ performance and subsequent value.

Please don’t get me wrong, I do think there are many things we could learn from ‘the American way’ and I am not suggesting that these recent stories or events are indicative of the whole picture but I do think it’s a fundamental mistake to further drive down the self-respect or to further drive up the resentment of UK management. This decision is inevitably going to do that.

If asked, I believe the majority of UK managers would agree, or secretly agree to this point of view, whatever country the ‘visiting guru’ came from.

Of course, I believe the UK Government is right to a degree when it states that current problems of UK productivity must lie with management deficiencies. But it would be ridiculous to say that this is the total sum of the problem, especially in areas of, say, export and manufacturing.

So then, how the UK Government expects to transform British Managers into British Leaders, catalysing change and generating growth is beyond me, given they themselves are making the most obvious and basic ‘gaffes’ around leadership, empowerment and unconscious autocracy.

As a group of management developers, it seems that we now have to inspire, facilitate and support the evolution of management in this country and we know all too well that this can only come from within the UK managers themselves.

If nothing else, the role and profile of a management developer has changed out of all proportion.

Barriers to change

Rather than stating a huge shopping list of things that don’t work and things that must be changed, I want to talk about the three most fundamental influences that I believe together make up ninety percent of the causes behind management problems.

As they are barriers, they are by nature negative, and in no way discount the myriad great deeds that go on, probably unrewarded, in the daily lives of the majority of managers.

Equally important to note is that these barriers are generally a result of ‘unawareness’ in managers, rather than negative intent, on the whole;

Barrier One - Arrogance
Barrier Two - Stupidity
Barrier Three - Fear

Arrogance

Cambridge Dictionary defines Arrogance as;

“Unpleasantly proud and behaving as if you are more important than, or know more than, other people.”

Yet, isn’t that what most managers believe is their duty as a manager, if not to be more important, at least to know more than other people?

Very few who get into management believe that it’s okay not to know all the answers and very few people who do are still in that space, some years down the line.

Most of us would say “I am not arrogant, I have self confidence” but spotting personal arrogance is more a matter of seeing our impact on others rather than trusting to our internal view of ourselves and, arrogance being arrogance, the propensity to step back and see that impact diminishes every day that we are allowed to get away with it.

Of course leadership strength and the willingness to take the concomitant responsibility are components of the skillset, but so is a dimension of self-awareness that breeds the kind of humility that in turn creates genuine power and the conditions for others to excel.

Stupidity

Cambridge Dictionary defines Stupidity as;

“Foolish or unwise; lacking judgement or intelligence.”

The key word here being ‘judgement’ as, in the final analysis, it is the manager’s ability to judge the true facts and make an appropriate decision that creates the larger outcome, for good or ill, in every case.

Exercising judgement is part of releasing the intelligence that our development role is meant to facilitate in managers and it is the ability to interact at that level, again helping managers to step back and objectively assess the situation that makes the difference; not endless attempts to help improve the implementation of those judgements.

Of course, a high level of ‘unconscious arrogance’ is going to make this task very difficult, given the misidentification between self-importance and making the ‘right’ judgement in isolation.

Fear

Cambridge Dictionary defines Fear as;

“An unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, unpleasant or bad that is happening or might happen.”

Which is pretty much the underlying state that most managers feel on most mornings when they awake and before the first cup of coffee or ‘act of command’ helps them to push it down and away.

This then is the lynch pin barrier: as arrogance is usually a defence against it and judgement is not possible, given it.

If asked if they are afraid, the majority of managers will deny it and most likely be unaware of it. Asked, however, if they are worried about something, they will list a great number of concerns and most will be based on their worries about what events might transpire or what others are doing or could do, down line and up line.

But the fact is that worry is a sister emotion of fear. Regardless of the intensity or who is to blame, if someone is worried, then they are frightened and therefore limited in their ability to act.

For Management Development to be effective, it must surely increase managements’ ability to act but it can never achieve this without a head-on confrontation with the underlying ‘living in fear’ that goes on every day that but no-one really mentions, certainly not at management level.

Bringing in an outside ‘watchdog’ as Government intends, is hardly conducive to creating a ‘safe space’ for UK Management to explore these issues and confront the truth.

By confrontation, I don’t mean management developers should ‘attack’, as this will only compound the issue. I mean confrontation as in ‘facing’, by encouraging people to communicate their worries as personal fears, through dialogue, empathy and rapport. We all know from personal experience that when we are able to confront our fears and let them go, through the act of communication, they disappear and we are released from our inevitable self-fulfilling prophesies.

In some ways, management development is a paradox in that it is highly involved at a relating level but equally a safe, ‘neutral’ place for people to make and change life-effecting choices and behaviour.

If you still doubt this is relevant, ask yourself what percentage of time is spent by managers worrying about what could happen or worrying about what could happen again, rather than what is happening right now, making it all but impossible for them to act rather than react.

As in going to battle, a fearful warrior makes a poor fighter and so too in management, personal survival drivers will diminish judgement, power and action, every time.

To err is human

If any of the above comes across as some sort of quasi-psychology, I should say I don’t presume to be any sort of expert in management psychology. But, like you, I am human and to that end I understand what it’s like to be in these self imposed strait-jackets and it seems we can only shout ‘the emperor has no clothes’ when we know that we don’t either.

We have to believe at least that being naked is better than being imprisoned, even if it’s not great for the image!

I truly believe that all the forms of management development; the E-learning, training, blended learning, executive coaching and culture change programmes, will be much more effective and the old ‘management versus leadership’ debate will become redundant, if we can raise the level of managements’ personal awareness through the level of personal engagement that we ourselves are prepared to undertake.

To forgive is divine

To increase our ability to engage with Management, we must first exercise our own self-awareness and increase our own willingness to overcome the arrogance, stupidity and fear that we ourselves have built up over the years, in the light of an even greater commitment to the success and well being of ‘the whole’ …because we can make the difference.

Events show that the emphasis on authentic communication has never been as relevant for management developers as it is now and, whilst exploring all the new and all the tried and tested ‘development models’, we are actually faced with the real decision whether or not to take matters that bit further.

Meaning we have to consider taking how we relate that bit further, whichever route we choose, or it’s a dead undertaking but first and foremost we should do it with respect and with compassion for the human condition, as it stands right now.

Kim Coe
CEO
The How2 Group

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