Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist

Not all Managers are Mis-Managers. In my recent blog post, Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well, I raised the issue of Mis-Managers and the damage they can cause to not only their direct reports, but to the organization as a whole. I also discussed how such Mis-Managers typically got promoted into their positions and “reached their level of incompetence”. This blog post is the sixth in the Mis-Manager series (see also Mis-Managers 2: Janus & Old Yeller and Mis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-DownerMis-Managers 4: Micromanagers - People, Design & Process, Mis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, and Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole), but this one discusses some positive Manager types, and not Mis-Managers. As with my Herding Cats series, (see Herding Cats: The Art of "Managing" Knowledge WorkersHerding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist BastardHerding Cats 3: Boss Wannabe & Social ButterflyHerding Cats 4: "Wally" & Prima DonnaHerding Cats 5: Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star, and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Chesire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole) which discuss knowledge worker (see Knowledge Is Power!) personality types, this one describes Manager characteristics, and concentrates on one specific attribute, rather than the mix of characteristics that will normally be the case. Clearly every Manager (and Mis-Manager) is an individual with characteristics that are unique, and most have a variety of personality characteristics. Every situation is also unique and should be treated in a unique fashion. The suggestions I make for approaching such people are just one person’s view – mine. Given the position of power that a Manager or Mis-Manager may occupy, think carefully about your best approach.

The Mentor:
The Characteristics:  A Mentor is a manager who concentrates on and emphasizes the development of his/her people as a high priority. He/she provides meaningful assignments that enable his/her people to grow in technical, process, and people skills. A Mentor’s philosophy is, “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can eat for life.” The Mentor seeks to provide the skills and abilities for his/her people to excel and grow. He/she respects them and enables them to express their opinions freely, take chances, make mistakes, learn, and develop. He/she believes in open and honest communication, and has a real open door policy, where any topic or problem can be freely discussed without concerns of retribution or recrimination. He/she provides meaningful and actionable guidance that his/her people can really use. A Mentor leads by example, and serves as a positive role model (see Learn From Good Role Models; Learn More From Bad). He/she encourages teamwork by demonstrating the success and synergy that comes from effective team efforts (see Pigasus - When Pigs Fly!).

The Employee Approach:  If you’ve got a Mentor as a manager, be very grateful! You are in for a learning experience that will last a lifetime. Take advantage of your good fortune; learn as much as you can, and develop as quickly as you can. Spend time with your Mentor wisely, and stretch your wings to the maximum possible. Your good fortune in having such a boss is unlikely to last throughout your career, so take pleasure in it. Observe other (Mis)Managers and compare and contrast them to yours. Speak to friends under other (Mis)Managers and appreciate your circumstances relative to theirs. You’ve got a wonderful opportunity. Learn all you can from it, and use your experiences to guide you as you grow and advance in your career.

The Tactician Manager (Short-Term Doer):
The Characteristics:  The Tactician has a near-term focus, and tends to be a problem solver, a firefighter, a doer. His/her eyes are focused on achieving near-term goals, such as getting a product released on time, with high quality, and within budget. The Tactician’s concern is that the long term may not matter if the short- term problems cannot be taken care of now. His/her motto tends to be, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’ll do.” (see Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, and Do What You Say You'll Do!). The Tactician typically rallies to people with clear explanations of what needs to be done now or very soon. He/she tends to work closely with his/her people and gets down in the trenches to make things happen. He/she doesn’t ask others to do what he/she won’t do himself/herself. He/she earns the respect of others by doing. The Tactician’s heart is certainly in the right place (to do what’s best for the company by fixing near-term problems today), but such an approach may actually move the company off-course in the long run.

The Employee Approach:  If your boss is a Tactician and so are you, you will likely feel comfortable, and will move up quickly in your boss’ eyes. However, you should recognize that life and work have more than just short-term goals, and that you need to stretch yourself to grow beyond the role you find yourself in. It’s up to you – your Tactician boss likely won’t be able to help you see this. If you are more strategically oriented, you will likely find life difficult under a Tactician, and you will feel unappreciated and unacknowledged. You should work with your boss to help bridge your differences and gain acceptance. Alternatively, you may wish to find a position more in line with your approach.

The Strategist Manager (Long-Term Thinker):
The Characteristics:  The Strategist has a long-term focus, and sees how problems affect the strategic direction of his/her group and the organization as a whole. He/she is a thinker, who sees long-term goals and directs both near-term and far-term efforts toward achieving those strategic goals. A Strategist will act on short-term problems, but will not attack them rashly. Rather, he/she will think through the long-term consequences of short-term actions, and will analyze the costs and benefits of taking any action. His/her motto is likely, “Look before you leap”, or, “Don’t do something stupid now that you may regret doing later.” The Strategist recognizes that some short-term actions may take the organization off-course from its long-term goals. As with the Tactician, the Strategist’s heart is in the right place (to do what’s best for the company in the long run), but such an approach may jeopardize the company’s ability to reach the long-term goals if some short-term problems can’t be fixed now. A Strategist may suffer from analysis paralysis; that is, being unable to make a decision due to over-analyzing the situation.

The Employee Approach:  As stated above, if you and your boss are both strategically oriented, you will likely feel comfortable, and will move up quickly in your boss’ eyes. However, you need to also be able to react appropriately to short-term problems, and to take short-term action when necessary. You need to recognize this need, and you probably won’t get such advice from your boss. You should try to educate your boss in this regard if possible. If you are tactically oriented, you’ll likely find your work life very frustrating, as you are a doer, wanting to take action now, while your boss wants to stand back and think things through. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, so you should learn critical thinking skills from your Strategist boss. You should also help to let you boss know that there’s a time for thinking and a time for doing, and the doing can’t wait forever. If you find your life under a Strategist to be too frustrating, then you may want to seek a position in a group more to your liking.

These are just three more of many (Mis)Manager personality types that you will come across in knowledge worker-based (and other) organizations. I’ll get into more in subsequent blog posts.

[Note: Please let me know if there are Mis-Manager personality types you’d like spotlighted.  I’ll do my best to accommodate you.]

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