ON THE JOB
The new generation of technical managers must make the transition from the industrial to the information age — in other words, they must stop commanding and start creating. Most of us have become accustomed to bureaucratic organisations that are dominated by the old command-and-control orientation. This mindset was memorialised by the German sociologist Max Weber, who focused the world’s attention on the bureaucratic machine whose genius for social invention harnessed the manpower and resources of the 19th century.
Most organisations today retain that kind of command-and-control, macho mentality, with bureaucracies characterised by division of labour, specialisation, and hierarchies. The words that best describe this archaic mindset are: control, order and predict (COP—it’s an appropriate acronym). The successful organisations have a flattened hierarchy and more cross-functional linkages. Three words can be used to describe the new mindset: acknowledge, create and empower (ACE). Effective leadership: There’s no substitute for top leadership — at every level in the organisation. You have to be deeply involved, not simply issue edicts and draft vision statements, but in fact translate the idea of empowerment into realities. For empowerment to work, it must be sustained through action.
It is seen that corporations with majestic, framed vision statements hanging on the wall of each office — just as Lenin’s portrait hung on the wall of every Soviet bureaucracy. But many of these organisations fail to back the lofty vision statement with action. The vision statements and empowerment principles mean nothing unless they’re sustained through a lot of different actions — actions of organisation, actions of rewards, actions of recruiting, and actions of communication. The rhetoric unsustained through action is simply going to create cynicism. And it’s not going to help get that ACE.
Improving management style: Intuition is a critical component of ACE management style. To what managers attribute most of their mistakes? It is failing to follow their gut instinct: “I didn’t trust my intuition.” Lots of people have trouble getting to bedrock, hearing signals and acting on them. They don’t pay more attention to significant vagrant thoughts that happen to enter their minds. How do you develop a greater confidence in making decisions? One solution is very simple: get straightforward feedback — reflective back talk. It comes from people who are honest enough to confront you and give you the real goods. Many managers refer to their spouses as a significant management asset because they offer reflective back talk. Find as many sources of valuable feedback as you can. Managers can learn a lot from failure, because failure screams out for explanation. When successful managers are asked how they learn, they often say, “It’s through mistakes, through mishaps, through falling on my butt — and not just once.” But they also imply something else. First, that you are able to actually reflect upon those experiences. Second, that you can see your own role. It’s not only important to think about experience, it’s crucial to see what you’ve contributed to it. Successful managers keep trying.