Are You Over-Led and Under-Managed?

“It has become popular to talk about us being over-managed and under-led. I believe we are now over-led and under-managed.” – Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing: What Managers Do – and Can Do Better(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)
Much has been written about the difference between leaders and managers.
“Leaders are people who do the right thing,” note leadership experts Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003). “Managers are people who do things right.”
As they further explain: “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.”
While this distinction is correct, it has unintended negative effects. Some leaders now believe their job is about coming up with big ideas. They dismiss executing these ideas, engaging in conversation and planning the details as mere “management” work.
Worse still, many leaders cite this distinction as the reason why they’re entitled to avoid the hard work of learning about the people they lead, the processes their companies use and the customers they serve.

What Managers Actually Do

According to traditional management theorists, managers are supposed to plan, organize, coordinate and control. In truth, the pressures of reacting to urgent matters supplant most reflection and planning.
Managers respond to daily crises, take on too much work, operate with continuous interruptions and make instant decisions. They have no time to step back and consider bigger issues – a problem that often causes them to act with superficial, fragmented information.
In a classic November 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact,” Mintzberg outlines 10 daily management roles that fall within three broad categories:
1. Interpersonal Category (3 Roles)
a. Figurehead. You represent your group to your organization and the community at large.
b. Leader. You hire, train and motivate employees.
c. Liaison. You maintain contact with colleagues and stakeholders outside your immediate chain of command.
2. Informational Category (3 Roles)
a. Monitor. You leverage your personal network to scan the environment for vital information.
b. Disseminator. You feed information to subordinates who lack your access to critical data.
c. Spokesperson. You provide information on behalf of your unit to senior management and outside organizations.
3. Decisional Category (4 Roles)
a. Entrepreneur. You initiate projects to improve your unit’s processes or profits.
b. Disturbance Handler. You manage crises precipitated by employees, customers, suppliers, systems or accidents.
c. Resource Allocator. You decide who will get what, coordinate the impact of interrelated decisions and allocate managerial time.
d. Negotiator. You use strategic information to resolve grievances, establish contracts and promote shared decisions.
If you want to improve your managerial skills, take a good look at what actually happens each day:
How do you spend your time?
In which activities are you engaged?
Are you really operating in all 10 pivotal roles?
Where do you need help?

5 Effective Managerial Mindsets

Mintzberg further describes five critical managerial mindsets:
Managing oneself (reflective mindset). A reflective mindset allows you to be thoughtful, examine familiar experiences in a new light, and set the stage for developing innovative products and services.
Managing organizations (analytical mindset). An analytical mindset ensures that you make decisions based on in-depth data.
Managing context (worldly mindset). A worldly mindset helps you operate in diverse regions, with the cultural and social insights needed to serve varied customers.
Managing relationships (collaborative mindset). A collaborative mindset fosters relationship-building among the individuals and teams who produce your products and services. Instead of managing people, focus on managing your relationships with them.
Managing change (action mindset). An action mindset energizes you to create and expedite the best plans for achieving strategic goals.
Expecting managers to excel in all five managerial mindsets misses Mintzberg’s point. Managers are people, not superheroes. But when they’re at least somewhat familiar with each way of thinking, they can more easily recognize which skills are needed and appropriately switch mindsets.

The Care and Feeding of Managers

CEOs who wish to retain top managers need to see them as important resources and nurture them accordingly. Managers are the single greatest factor in retaining employees (Gallup Organization, State of the American Workplace, 2012).
CEOs should provide their managers with development opportunities and professional coaching. Companies that offer coaching enjoy marked performance improvements – not only from managers, but from those who report to them, as well.
Executive coaching grants managers time to practice introspection, which is necessary for ongoing learning. Job pressures frequently drive managers to take on too much work, encourage interruptions, respond quickly to every stimulus, seek the tangible and avoid the abstract, and make decisions in small increments. Effective managers consciously deal with these pressures.

Becoming a More Effective Manager

Conquer the challenges associated with managerial demands by developing introspection skills and insights:
Be aware of which roles you naturally prefer. Don’t ignore those that make you uncomfortable. Stretch beyond your usual limits.
Be sure to disseminate information to others so you can delegate more and help your people grow more self-sufficient.
Avoid the traps of superficial decision-making because of time pressures. Make use of other experts and analysts.
Schedule time for the tasks you believe are most important. Don’t let daily pressures crowd out time for reflection, innovation or other critical values.

The Right Management Mix

Stanford University Management Professor Robert I. Sutton notes in “True Leaders Are Also Managers,” an August 2010 Harvard Business Review blog post:
“I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management.
“Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.”
As an adjunct to Bennis’ oft-quoted distinction between managers and leaders, Sutton proposes the following:
“To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.”
When we praise the value of leadership and begin to denigrate management’s role, we greatly risk failing to act on these experts’ obvious, yet powerful, messages.

Repair the Trust Deficit

Even the most competent managers and leaders will suffer a trust deficit if they fail to communicate well with their people. Misguided communications are a big cause of lack of perceived trustworthiness in bosses.
And in the work I do coaching people in organizations, it doesn’t take much to fuel the flames of mistrust.
Business professors Lynn Offermann and Lisa Rosh urge leaders to do a better job of opening up to people in a June 2012 Harvard Business Review article.
“Studies indicate that senior leaders who reveal something about their lives outside the office do so without undermining their authority,” they write, while cautioning against excessively intimate disclosures.
Offermann and Rosh offer the following tips for a balanced approach to “skillful self-disclosure”:

  • Open up. During the course of your workday, squeeze in an occasional impromptu conversation with a subordinate about interests other than work, such as children’s activities, restaurants, sports, movies and the like. Share a glimpse into your personal life while taking time to listen.
  • Empathize. Offer brief, personal acknowledgments of significant events in employees’ lives, such as additions to family, marriage, family death and serious illness. Share how a similar event impacted your life without overshadowing the employee’s circumstance.
  • Remain professional. Share information that enhances the work relationship, yet doesn’t harm your reputation. Exercise discretion; avoid over sharing.

“There is considerable evidence that leaders who disclose their authentic selves to followers can build not only trust, but generate greater cooperation and teamwork as well,” the professors write.
And this makes sense. If all a leader does is communicate corporate information in one direction to staff, there’s not much of a relationship established. What’s that saying about people not caring what you say unless you show you care?
Communications are always a two way street, even if only one person is doing all the talking. Your non-verbal expressions matter, and so does your ability to open up, empathize and act like a real human being.
What do you think? Can your leaders do a better job of sharing their human side? Or are they worried about their professional masks?

The Fragility of Trust

We hardly need reminding of the wave of scandals that shattered the public’s faith in corporate leaders: the 2008 global financial crisis, the Enron bankruptcy, the Challenger explosion, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in 2012.
Trust is a measure of the quality of a relationship – between two people, among groups, or between a person and an organization. In totally predictable situations, trust is usually a given. When you know exactly what to expect, there’s no need to make a judgment call.
Quite frankly, from what I can see in the work I do coaching, many leaders are basically trustworthy as individual human beings. But in organizations with a hierarchy, power incongruities and pay differences, perceived trust is fragile.
In addition, the turbulence created by outsourcing, mergers, downsizing and radically changing business models provides a breeding ground for distrust. In uncertain economic times, it doesn’t take much to trigger fear and insecurity that can erode trust.
What about in your organization? Are your leaders perceived as trustworthy? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment.

When a Company Lacks Empathy

Some business executives dismiss the need for empathy, favoring the more concrete and defensible virtues of rational analysis. They have a point. So did Blockbuster executives when faced with Netflix’s debut.
Blockbuster witnessed Netflix’s dramatic growth in the very early 2000s and chose to do nothing. Company leaders saw the world from a solitary vantage point: atop a $6 billion business with 60% margins, tens of thousands of employees and a thriving nationwide retail chain.
Blockbuster’s management team certainly didn’t view the world from its customers’ perspective: late fees that drove renters up the wall, a limited range of movies that eschewed anything that wasn’t a new release.
Netflix’s ultimate market domination is a cautionary tale for other complacent companies. The Blockbusters of the world go belly up because they sell what they want to sell – not what their customers want to buy.
Empathy helps companies stay grounded. Face-to-face encounters with the people you serve provide context for market research and other data.
The Way Things Used to Be
Overly simplified, abstract information often carries authority inside organizations. Knowing and understanding your customers is the antidote.
“The problem with business today isn’t a lack of innovation; it’s a lack of empathy,” writes Professor Dev Patnaik in Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy.
Empathy is the ability to step outside yourself and see the world as other people do. For some companies, it’s also a rarely discussed engine for growth.
Harley-Davidson gets it right. The company hires fans and publicizes its connection with consumers. Leaders work hard to stay in touch with consumers’ changing needs.
This is the way business used to be conducted two centuries ago. For thousands of years, craftsmen made things for people they knew. Tailors, cobblers and other tradesmen understood what their customers wanted.
This approach ended with the Industrial Revolution. As more goods were mass-produced in factories, suppliers and consumers experienced a growing rift – one that we’ve been struggling to repair ever since. It’s much harder to succeed when you create products for people you don’t know – individuals whose lives seem alien to yours or who are halfway around the world.
In the work you do at your company, in what ways do you see a lack of understanding of customer’s complaints? Where do you see a need to shift attention and empathy? I’d love to hear from you.

In Your Customers’ Shoes

What’s the best way to keep an eye on what your customers need and want? I’ve been reading a lot about empathy in Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, by Dev Pataik and Peter Mortensen. The authors make a case for better customer contact in business strategy planning.
Modern technological improvements in data-mining provide strategic plans, sales forecasts and manufacturing reports. Companies become so dependent on these models that they can lose touch with reality.
Firms use all of this information to create maps – market segmentations, research reports – of how customers use their products. But these maps are poor substitutes for actual human contact. Many managers make critical decisions based on numbers, without any personal feeling for the people they serve. They fail to spot new opportunities and innovative solutions for customers.
Nike has built an entire culture that celebrates the potential for athletic greatness in each of us. The company’s headquarters resemble an athletic center; its employees take breaks for running, basketball and soccer games. The people who develop running shoes are usually runners themselves. They possess a basic intuition that cannot be captured in any market report.
Other major companies have learned the value of empathy:

  • IBM helps customers keep their information technology up and running by staying as close to them as possible.
  • Microsoft succeeded with the Xbox because it was designed for gamers by developers who love games.
  • Apple makes computers, iPhones, iPads and iPods for people who covet cool, easy-to-use products. The company’s organizational culture reflects its customers’ lifestyles.

Business happens on the street, in stores and in homes. When companies have a real connection with end users, they come up with better product designs. Harnessing the power of empathy closes the gap between abstract data and reality.
Consumers don’t buy goods based on demographics. Nobody, for example, opens his wallet because he’s a 25- to 30-year-old white male with a college degree. As people go about their daily lives, problems arise that beg for solutions. Consumers are willing to spend money on solutions that will get the job done. Your ability to empathize with them and anticipate their needs determines whether your product or service will sink or swim in the marketplace.
It’s worth noting that Sony co-founder Akio Morita and Apple’s Steve Jobs were famous for never commissioning market research. Instead, they’d just walk around the world watching what people did. They put themselves in their future customers” shoes.
Think about it. What would be some ways you could observe actual clients using your company’s products or services? How could you walk in their shoes? I’d love to hear from you.

Real People in the Information Age

I’ve been thinking about our need to demonstrate more empathy, especially in large organizations and workplaces. I see this in the work I do healthcare coaching and consulting.
Most organizations over-rely on data, to the exclusion of face-to-face customer contact. It’s important to remember that we are intrinsically social animals, with an innate ability to sense what others are thinking and feeling.
We rely on our intuition to help us make decisions. But in large groups, contact is lost – as is our instinct for determining what’s going on outside the group. Corporations can become far too insular.
If you stay in touch with colleagues and customers, you’ll have a better sense of what’s going on in the world. You’ll also surpass competitors at spotting new opportunities.
Large institutions often choose to rely on data and market research for information on customer experiences, abandoning face-to-face interactions that preserve relationships. These businesses invariably become far removed from their customers’ day-to-day lives.
In the words of Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski, the map is not the territory.
Harley-Davidson is one notable exception, its office a shrine to the motorcycle culture the company helped create. Offices display photos, memorabilia and banners from rallies. Customers and employees ride together. Engineers, accountants and administrative staff acquire an intuitive understanding of the customers who buy their products.
Harley-Davidson’s leaders mandate that company executives spend measurable time on the streets with motorcycle riders. While many employees don’t ride, the company nonetheless instills its lifestyle and values. Empathy is a key element of this corporate strategy.
In many workplaces, however, this is not the case. Instead of opportunities to mingle with customers, marketing departments rely on data to identify the demographics of their customers. Personas are created from marketing research and internet data to represent groups of customers.
Companies monitor pictures, Web browsing history and the ads people select or choose to click, and based on that data, they tailor their merchandise to a targeted audience.
How about in your place of work? In what ways are there missed opportunities to connect with real clients? I’d love to hear from you.

The Business Case for Empathy

[two_third_last]The more an organization can understand and empathize with the key motivators of their employees and customers, the more likely that organization will have sustainable success. ~ Chip Conley, author of Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow
In an uncertain economy, empathy may seem like a soft business skill. It can, however, serve as a catalyst for new growth, innovation and employee engagement, all of which drive profits and long-term results.
I’ve seen this happen within some of the companies I consult for through leadership coaching. The more an organization demonstrates care for its customers and employees, the greater the potential for uninterrupted growth, higher profits, improved products and happier employees. Empathy may, in fact, be the most under-appreciated and overlooked strategic business tactic.
Empathy is a powerful social force. Physiologically, each of us is hard-wired to care. Specific brain cells known as “mirror neurons” enable us to experience other people’s emotions. This capacity contributes to our levels of intuition, thoughtfulness and insight.
But what I’m finding with some of the clients I work with, like in hospital coaching, is that as we try to cope with the daily challenges of an increasingly fast-paced world, it’s easy to lose the skills of empathy. We need to reclaim our basic empathy abilities, which get lost in the shuffle of stultifying business routines. Organizations as well can learn to become empathic to forge connections with customers and employees.
“Companies prosper when they tap into a power that every one of us already has – the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people,” writes Stanford University Adjunct Professor Dev Patnaik in Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy.
We can become so focused on “getting things done,” that we forget to connect with others, our co-workers and customers on a basic human level. And organizations lose touch with their customers, which is why they’re in business in the first place.
What do you think? Does this ring true for you? I’d love to hear from you.