Money Matters

Too close for comfort?

By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 07, 24

No management guru, practitioner or even an observer will dispute the dire need to cultivate and create a general feeling of ‘esprit-de-corps’ between individuals who are brought together to achieve a task, objective or goal.

Too close for comfort?

No management guru, practitioner or even an observer will dispute the dire need to cultivate and create a general feeling of ‘esprit-de-corps’ between individuals who are brought together to achieve a task, objective or goal.

In a broader context, all organizations must have a deep sense of togetherness among their rank-and-file workers. A common shared goal/objective binds people together. If there is any ambiguity of purpose or clash of objectives, the team will cease to operate with a common mindset.

Without wanting to extend the already lengthy castigation of the current Pakistan cricket team after their dismal T20 World Cup display, I am constrained to say that they are a perfect case study for students of management. Whilst many of them are excellent players in their own right as individuals, they, however, fail miserably when required to deliver as a team. Why? Let’s park here the oft-quoted and famously applicable proverb: ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. It would be more appropriate to say ‘familiarity breeds incompetence’. I will return to this adage later.

The primary task of leaders/managers is to have a shared vision. This vision, then needs to be translated into policies that must be directional and in consonance with the overall vision. These policies then serve as the raw material for actions and procedures, which, in turn, must be built to achieve and realise goals. For each step to remain in conjunction with the agreed objectives, management moves to mobilize the workforce.

The human capital available concerning any industry or service usually has several similarities when it comes to knowledge, skills and talent. The experience needed must meet the test of a variety of assignments undertaken. Preferably, it must be broad-based. Despite the overlap in training and experience, the group of people assembled remain heterogeneous — it is not unhealthy to have such teams but what later becomes a major challenge for the supervisor is to mould them into a homogeneous and cohesive team.

The team-building process is tedious and susceptible to the challenges of maintaining healthy relationships between diverse team members. In the enabling process of gluing officers/workers together, the supervisor adopts various strategies including, but not limited to, the carrot and stick policy. Human beings respond to both intimidation and friendliness but each constituent has to be very ably assessed by the manager to discover who responds best to which of the two approaches.

The creation of fear amongst team members can yield sound results but its sustainability will always be precarious. Similarly, an environment of friendliness can produce superb results but this approach can easily succumb to general laxity and also has the potential to spread cancerously to other operating units of the organization.

For orders to be executed once a consultative decision has been made, there should be no room or space given for it to not be implemented or for it to be returned. There should be no delays either. Displays of friendship and affinity should be the call of the manager/leader and not of the team members. The moment a licence is given to team members to show casual friendship with the supervisor, the entire edifice of command-and-control crumbles through impudent presumptuousness by the team.

To make a unit, department, division or the organization itself into a well-knit team, it is sometimes imperative for the leader/manager to lower his/her defences. They have to step out of the restrictive aura they have willingly or otherwise created by their general disposition. It is natural to develop sound relationships with those who are concerned about you, beyond the horizons of the assigned work. I have personally stepped out of my normal reserved and aloof self to hold a colleague by the arm gently (with full cognizance of gender and cultural standards) to ask how the family is doing? I believe my actions helped lead to greater motivation, a better attitude and productivity.

However, in reaching out as a leader/manager one has to be cautious and selective about who you can lower your gauntlet with. There will always be some colleagues, who as recipients to this visible attention can go on to abuse this overt friendliness of the manager. If the leader cracks a joke, and that too frequently, of unbecoming context; then he/she should be mentally prepared to hear an even more inappropriate one from the errant colleague.

The first acceptance of a lapse by an errant colleague, if it is not immediately checked, stopped or questioned, will lead to the opening of floodgates of liberties taken. Here, what is critical is, how much and with whom and how many, should the leader appear publicly to be ‘friendly’, ‘casual’, and ‘approachable’. I am reminded of what Mohandas Gandhi had said, a man is insulted up to the extent he permits.

Not everything about yourself must be known to everybody. A certain degree of reticence, of the type Muhammad Ali Jinnah wore on his sleeves, is an absolute necessity for a leader/ manager in my view. Colleagues, if they are aware of the response to a challenge, will invariably take advantage and that will usually have a negative impact. Predictability is not a good tool for management.

Personal respect must be protected at all costs, failing which, the teams will be tempted to test the limits of provocation. Respect is always greater from a distance. Too close for comfort is an apt adage in the context of the team vs the leader. Intimacy can be injurious to the self; it can gnaw at your fame, authority and respect.

Great leaders cease to be great if they become very close to their followers. The lack of ceremony between the leader and the led, coupled with a lack of restraint, reserve and conventionality ushers in impertinence and disrespect. Leaders have to be accessible but not fully and not always or at any time. The axiom to follow for managers should be ‘friendly but reserved’ or available but not anytime, anywhere.

Going back to what was parked in the earlier paragraph – if the cricket captain starts to behave casually with the teammates he or she leads it is natural that challenges begin to be taken lightly. The results do not matter and low performance continues to be rewarded.

As managers, be friendly with the team but on your terms of engagement, not theirs. Let there be no malice but only friendship towards all, which must be tempered with stoicism and restraint.

The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist.