Perhaps, whenever the word management is mentioned, it conjures that the discussion is about leadership. Leaders have to be managers. A good manager will emerge to be a good leader, in most cases and vice-versa, a good leader will be found to be a good manager. Leaders manage resources to achieve a common objective of the enterprise. Amongst the several ‘resources’, leader’s management is inclusive of that asset, that is not mentioned in the balance sheet or financial statements, ie human resources. If management is about leadership, then leadership is about people management.
The criticality in the management of human resources is about the skills of the leaders/managers. Obviously, props the question, how many and what type of skills should a manager/leader must necessarily have? If an attempt is made to start listing, firstly it will be endless and secondly on review, you may wonder, is it a manager/leader, we are talking about or an “apostle”, or on a lesser rung of expectations, a ‘Superman’! In my personal view, to be an effective leader/manager, you don’t have to possess each and every conceivable management skill or trait; to be one, you first need to “understand” human psyche and be firm and clear or what the goal is? Leadership is to make available to the team an enabling environment, for it to realize its fullest potential. A sensible manager will collect and create a good team – ensures great results and vice-versa could be disastrous.
When you walk into an organisation as CEO, or even as a new manager to a division, you are faced with die-hard legacy issues – everybody in their career has encountered the remark, in response to any suggested change… “we have been doing like this, since decades”! In this legacy you had no role, but taking it as, corporate inheritance, you have to quickly learn to adopt and wait to change. So, is the team – which is not your selection. The prevailing systems, rules, regulations, policies and procedures are not the consequence of your dictate or thinking. The corporate culture is not your doing. To make things worse and add to the woes of the incoming leader/manager, it can be a daunting task, if the financial results aren’t good either.
I had a situation, where in an organisation that I worked for, I had to tell and continuously remind senior members of the team that they are the "management". Who is the management? I kept asking, whenever an inaction was heaped upon the perceived, “management”. The senior workforce and the middle tier, is the management. It is misplaced and wrongful thinking that your immediate supervisor is “the management”. Their individual behaviour and actions are believed to be corporate demands – rude or uncouth behaviour of an individual can never be classified as corporate stance – haven’t yet seen an advertisement that says, “come join us – we are an arrogant institution, where looking down upon others is seen as a virtuous trait”.
What impacts the state of mind of any workforce? The list can again be a bottomless pit. Amongst the multitude of reasons that blocks the mind of a worker, the most grazing achievements that spoil the environment are – senior management in disarray, confusion galore, at each other’s throats, undermining each other’s efforts, lack of direction, rudeness, disoriented lack of client focus, low profitability, declining sales, lack of incentives – all leading to the creation of an unfriendly working environment. In such situation, how do you change the mood?
Almost a decade back, I was tasked to lead an organisation. My inheritance list included a despondent team, emotionally wrecked, no creativity, no interest in clientele, no enthusiasm for growth and each to his own cocoon. The board was proud and puffed up, to the degree of arrogance, about their heritage and corporate culture. The, principles of the culture were value-based and those were universally acceptable. Once, hence there was nothing wrong about it. But it was all about the implementation of those values – there was no visibility of those values in the inter action between staff members, on the shop floor.
A difficult task to change the frame of mind loomed before me, both as a challenge and also as a doubt, if it would be possible to alter the dejection and gloominess in the organisation. The gates to all reservoirs and dams of patience had to be fully opened. Against very strong currents of resistance; started to turn the wheels of the corporate vessel. Those who used to remain, initially silent, to an extent of being classified as dumb, began to open up with no self-restraint. The first task was to get seniors to speak and the second task was, on how to either shut them up or harness their speech; because of their new found independence to voice “thoughts”; taunts and sarcasm became the lingual franc of the meetings. After initial tolerance, those who did not know the firm art of subtlety in expression were taken aside and patiently counselled and coached. It took a few years of toil, hard work and patience, but soon the team was an enviable well-knit, workforce, where performance of not just the ‘self’ but of others too, was appreciated and looked at with motivation to do better. The financial results started to depict the change in the frame of the mind. To remove a team from disharmony, depression and melancholia, it is imperative for the leader to adopt the following minimum initiatives:
a) Resolute will – be clear and be firm. Demonstrate authority to compromise on solutions, but not on principles. The military leadership model is a case in point.
b) Soft push – the threat of punitive actions must remain, without it being too pronounced; instead trumpet more promise of tolerance to each other’s views. Adoption of a non-combative management approach. An environment of co-operation where all are listened to.
c) Zero retaliation: creating confidence within the team that an opposing point of view would not attract a reprisal of action. Developing the ability to disengage with the past, while imbibing the spirit to look, here and now!
J Gifford, in his book “History Lessons” has described and eluded to these concepts, by putting forward from history, the examples of Lt Gen Bernard Montgomery, Elizabeth-I and Nelson Mandela.
Lt-Gen Montgomery, when installed to lead in Libya/North Africa during World War-II had the most despondent armed forces – in his very first speech to the troops – he charged them with exhilaration –-- showed the resolute will; the mood was changed – the “win attitude” was restored.
Elizabeth-I ruled the longest through consensus and tolerance. She delicately balanced religious bigotry with enlightened approach. Through soft persuasion, later backed by legislation, she undid the religious hatred. She was a Protestant, but a saviour of the persecuted Catholics – in her era literature flourished. And in Nelson Mandela, we see no act of vengeance, by the man, who had every reason to become “negative” upon assumption of power. No retaliation. In fact, he gave assurance to the white’s and his tormentors that they shall remain South Africans and also be forgiven.
As managers and leaders of people, nothing of challenge should ever push you towards an impolite behaviour. The anger at something distasteful or/over anything not in alignment with corporate behaviour can still manifest, within the ambit of politeness – be firm, not insulting. Fairness in resolve, through firm action, devoid of rebuke or insult or even impoliteness, is a mark of a true leader. The ability to sit with dissent and then toil to turn them towards your way of doing things will always put to test, the managerial skill and ability. To do so, and to achieve, the leader/manager must have an unflinching faith in his self-confidence to change mind-set. The can-do attitude must infuriate the team, so that they come out of their frames of inertia and comfort zones.
The writer is a freelance columnist