Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Management Style - How Robust Can You Be?

I have been thinking a lot recently about styles in management. I have been lucky enough to have worked for some wonderful managers & leaders in my time, and have worked for my fair share of people who had no concept of leadership and couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag. So what is it that makes the difference - and can it be learnt?

This train of thought was really started by a discussion with a client about his own management style which he considered a little "autocratic". One question he had was "Where does being able to make difficult decisions stop, and bullying start?". I think that any manager/leader who even asks this question - and thereby accepts the possibility th
at there may be things to learn - is likely to be falling on the right side of that particular divide. Nevertheless, it started me thinking.

Stefan Stern wrote his blog yesterday about the "Bully-boy school of management". He makes a good point about bullying managers being isolated from facts because staff become
too scared to bring him (and it is usually a him) bad news. He also spoke, in his blog, about the need for some managers to win at all costs. Winning is a difficult word for managers - everyone likes to not only be a winner but to be recognised as a winner. Google "Winning" and "Management" together will produce over 60 million entries. MSNBC quote a Business Week article ("Are you a good leader. Follow these rules - Management 101") which includes the rule "Winning at all costs is for losers".

So - no winning at all costs, then, and no bullying. So where does robust come in then. Well the MSNBC article has, at rule 4 "Tell the truth" and at rule 8 "Take responsibility for your mistakes".

I would add my own absolute rule - "Make decisions, even if they are unpopular and difficult". I suspect we have all worked for at least one prevaricator and have learnt how difficult it is if the person in charge will just not decide things. 

So - just how robust can you be? That depends (you can tell that I'm a consultant...). The more difficult the situation the organisation finds itself in, the more robust a leader must be. Swift and decisive is the style most required in a crisis. In better times, however, there is more time to consult - and that is what a good leader should do.

I think I can summarise as follows - be robust, but do it well.

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