ManagerManagers and Management

This paper is attempt to organise some thoughts arising from recent discussions with my former Section Leader
My basic opinion is this:
Except in fairly rare situations, things get done and progress is made not because of  "Management" but in spite of it.

I thought the whole concept of "authority" had been settled in the Sixties. Certainly the teenagers of that time were uniformly criticised for not respecting authority. In fact they had only abandoned the idea that some people had authority simply because of their position and instead gave respect only to those who deserved it. Many authoritarian figures of the time, who certainly had not earned respect found this rather difficult. It was not difficult for us to find Biblical backup:

 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:   For He taught them as [one] having authority, and not as the scribes [did].      Matthew 7:28,29

How did Jesus earn authority? In two ways:

  • He, as the Son of God, knew a thing or two, so His knowledge and ability deserved respect.
  • He cared about His audience, really cared, indeed loved those who followed Him.

  • In the Seventies, I had, by chance, the opportunity to make a comparison between two Management Styles. A number of people were told by manager A to mount an exhibition. There was little time, few resources and when he came to view it, his comments were entirely critical, but we did our best. Soon afterwards I was seconded to another office where manager B asked some of us to mount an exhibition. We had a reasonable time, plenty of resources and when he came to view, he was appreciative and interested. Finally after it was all over, Manager B sent each of us a very brief typed note saying Thankyou.
    Which manager earned my respect? An easy question that even the average manager should be able to answer!

    By the end of the Seventies and into the Eighties it was becoming increasingly fashionable to believe that Management was a science in its own right, so it was no longer necessary to appoint people (especially at the top) who knew anything about the activity they were managing. Instead everyone under them had to supply them with Management Information, that is some pale ghost of a model of the real problems couched in terms of targets, man-hours and so forth. To those actually engaged in solving the real problems, this was simply a chore to be completed on wet Friday afternoons with the single object of satisfying Management, with no attempt to make it part of the real process, which the managers did not understand anyway.

    Also about this time, I observed a number of people who had worked on real problems, promoted to lower management. Some of them readily admitted that it was like leaving Junior school (big fish in small pond) and going to senior school (small fish in large pond). In other words far from gaining in authority by having more control over what they did, they lost it and found they simply had to do as they were told by higher managers. Most sold their souls and put up with the decrease in interest their work involved, since it was compensated by a higher salary.

    But management is not just about work, we all have to manage our affairs and our relationships. If we have any kind of responsibility in these areas, we may well find (like work managers) that What we have to do is not always under our control. However How we do it is entirely under our control. It is possible to write a notice telling people, for example, to stay off the grass in a friendly way or one can use aggressive phrases like Strictly Forbidden. Those who favour the latter have usually been hurt in their past and take every opportunity to get their own back. In fact, in recent years the old surly attitudes common to public authorities when confronted by the public have made a very welcome change for the better. One group which has not yet caught up, is the legal profession. They still think a Solicitors Letter is suppose to frighten the recipient into submission. I was able to make a comparison last year after a minor accident. The solicitor's letter threatened a summons, the quite different letter from the other car's insurance company said, politely: It seems to have been your fault. It was and I responded courteously. I told the solicitor to get lost, politely but vigorously, and he did, but no doubt charged his client a fee.

    The dreaded Committee And then there are Committees! Some people imagine that management can be done by Committee. This is not so. Committees work if and only if the members of it do all the management outside the meetings. While at work I attended a large number of long technical committee meetings and I always wanted to do an imaginary experiment. Erase all memory of a meeting, including the dreaded minutes and hold the meeting again. Repeat this several times changing a few variables: The weather, the order of the agenda, the quality of the lunch and especially replace a few key representatives with equally qualified alternatives. Whether or not a particular individual was there (or went to sleep after lunch) seemed to me to be the most significant feature of many meetings. I am sure that my experiment would lead to some very different committee decisions.

    Committees are useful for the exchange of ideas, but they are of no use whatever if the representatives have given no thought to the matters on the agenda outside the meeting and do nothing after it, until the next one. And, of course, everything depends on the management of the meeting by the chairperson. Some encourage everyone they think has something useful to say to say it. Many cannot control those who have nothing useful to say. Some simply use it to get their own way. Some try to learn from what is being said. One very lovely one, whose memory I shall always cherish, wished us all God Bless, as we parted.

    God Bless you dear reader.

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