In the spirit of this article (students snub work in cafés), I would like to expand on the idea that spending time in ‘lowly’ roles can be gold dust for those who may also have leadership/management aspirations, or indeed a self-employed career. I was recently teaching aspiring undergraduate hospitality managers the nuts and bolts of HR, and couldn’t help bringing in some of my OD-inspired views.
The value of observing
A long established observation I’ve made in roles as colleague and/or manager in the hospitality and community development industries, is that an entry-level role is fertile ground for learning some of the most important aspects of management, that if missed, can lead to stunted career growth, poor performance, and burn-out.
I have previously mused on experience as a manager that graduates are often missing vital skills that can best be honed by taking the practical route (in addition, study is also so much more meaningful with practical experiences to reflect on).
We can pick up things around management and leadership styles and their effects, and, if we remain humble and self-aware, nip some of the less savoury phenomena in the bud in our own behaviour before we take the stage, thereby hopefully avoiding some of the more base pitfalls that we are all, as humans susceptible to. This will hopefully also enable a degree of resilience when subject to bad managers – maintaining boundaries and dignity is of course vital, but professionalism pays off.
On the one hand, one gets to experience the first-person reception of such behaviour, and on the other, the effect on the group/collective/organisational domain – for example, the effects of autocratic controlling styles on culture ~ levels of initiative/autonomy/accountability, and the general levels of respect, which have massive amounts of correlation with motivation and effectiveness, which in turn directly affects the hard data of departmental/organisational performance.
It is our behaviour record, measured by our integrity, that adds the most value to our professional ‘brand’.
Much like with other disciplines such as marketing, the discipline of management needs a paradigm shift
Control, and how newly titled managers exert it, seems to be the central tension our behaviour record has to contend with.
Of course the elements of organisational design, leadership, and the existing culture (which has a huge subconscious element in its narrative of becoming what it is) are outside of what can be controlled, but the choice of whether to be intrinsically or extrinsically influenced and motivated, remains within our control as individuals.
Control for an organisation is essential – it’s the means by which organisations can most efficiently utilise resources, but the autocratic and controlling manager fools themselves into thinking control is their right as manager (representing the organisation’s interests at best, and serving as a playground for their ego as an all too common worst) – the hero trap being another common, slightly more refined pitfall that most managers face: ‘I care more about everything, put more in than everyone, and that gives me the right to tell people what to do.’
Control and accountability is their duty, but is it their right? Are they representing the best interests of the organisation (which should include its people) by retaining tight reins of control?
Is it actually in their best interests personally to treat it as a right (not to mention the organisation’s)?
Though there’s no simple answers, and context is king, my overall thinking is that control needs to be handed over, not to anti-hierarchical fuzzy collective ownership, but to the explicit interests of the organisation/department, in light of what is, not one, super-human heroic manager who holds information close, making decisions from their expertly-elevated view.
The stance of control, whether most simply enacted as autocratic micromanagement completely blindly, or in a more sophisticated but no less damaging hero-mode, is a fast-track route to burn-out. You have to be pretty well accomplished to successfully manage a team/organisation in a controlled manner – if you’re not, then it’s an even quicker inevitable endgame: Either your team’s best move out, you get moved on, or you hit a crisis.
It really doesn’t have to be that way, and you really don’t have to be super-human.
Fear & Feedback
Fear, what comes down from above and the (lack of) development of attributes around self-awareness are what lead to these common traps, that are still rife in so many organisations and managers today.
Rather than take a stance that looks down on such behaviours, if one has the humility that comes with true integrity, one is aware that such traps are always waiting for us, no matter our self-perceived / actual stage of development – there are always parts of our motivating factors and decision-making processes that arise from what we are unaware of, otherwise known as our shadow.
A common measure of development (in terms of emotional intelligence and leader-ability) is the degree to which we seek feedback on ourselves, in particular the gaps between talk and walk (another way of describing shadow), and for example, the way we give praise (or not) to others – that, I believe is the best place to start.
And there doesn’t have to be a radical full-scale change in the design of the organisation (yet…) – any manager can choose to become more aware, transparent, and find creative ways of gleaning feedback from their ‘subordinates’ – they’ll most likely do very well, though there’s of course always infinitely more to learn…