Monday, April 11, 2011

Personal Managerial Philosophy

Personal Managerial Philosophy

A managerial philosophy serves as the framework for one’s implementation and operational strategy. The philosophy used by the leader is not a theory that worked for someone else. It is not the plan that is implemented, though it serves as the foundation for the plan. A managerial philosophy does not change based on the operation or the number of people involved in the operation. Managerial philosophies are consistent, recognizable, and unique to the individual. My personal managerial philosophy includes a focus on leadership, from the front, surrounded by brilliant specialists, on whose strengths I capitalize. I demonstrate my respect to them by explaining my vision up front and encouraging them to take the time to provide quality output, while encouraging them to have a sense of ownership.

Management or Leadership?

I learned early in life that there was a significant difference between management and leadership. Many of my teachers in school and all of my bosses and supervisors seemed to operate exclusively in the management mode. They first laid out the requirements for the job or assignment, then made sure they were heard, and then backed away, returning only to make an adjustment to the process or to explain why something attempted without their direct input and oversight would not work properly. This style of management seemed to work in some situations, but for the most part, I think it created nothing more than a huge pause while those expected to continue the work wondered how the application of hastily transferred directions with limited opportunity for explanation or feedback should proceed. Management in application seemed to be cold, calculated, and tremendously ineffective.

A manager is someone who plans, organizes, leads, and controls human, material, or financial systems for an organization (Hellriegal, Jackson, & Slocum, 2005). Management involves the tasks and activities used in directing an organization (Hellriegal, et al., 2005). According to Hellriegal, et al. (2005), managers should have several basic competencies: communication, planning and administration, teamwork, strategic action, global awareness, and self-management.

It was not until I started a self-study on leadership and success several years ago that I realized there was a huge chasm of difference between management and leadership. Stephen Covey is known for distinguishing between the two by clarifying the roles of each: You manage things. You lead people (Covey, 1990, & 2004). Hellriegal, et al. (2005) considered leading to be the process of getting others to perform necessary tasks by motivating them to achieve organizational goals. Covey (2004) explained that leadership was having a broader and deeper vision of the operation than that possessed by management, and that managing is for those things without freedom to choose, like costs, information, time, systems and processes. Presumably, according to the Covey interpretation, true leaders serve the organization by being the best they can be at whatever they are doing, and encouraging others to do the same.

Accordingly, I will describe my leadership philosophy with the statement, “I lead people the way they demonstrate their need to be led.” I call it the “as necessary philosophy.” I do not per se ascribe to any specific mainstream management style or philosophy. I have found bits and pieces of various management fads to be helpful, especially after they have received widespread acceptance and have begun to morph into something different than the original, usually out of necessity based on the need for application in a different situation than the one for which they were originally designed (Goeke & Offodile, 2005). This philosophy has progressively served me well – the more I understand it, the better it serves! I recognize that I need to improve first on my understanding of it and second on my method of conveying it to those for whom I fill a leadership role.

Lead From the Front

Although there is less protection from the environment, harsh elements, and adversaries, I am convinced that the best leaders are leading from the forward, out-front position, at least most of the time. There will be times that leading can be accomplished from the middle (Maxwell, 2006), and some leadership can be accomplished from the rear, but unless the leader is in the mentoring mode and is monitoring another in their leadership role, the front is the place where the leader needs to be. This position shows that the leader knows where he or she is going, is confident in his or her ability to identify and defend against danger, and trusts those behind (following) him.

Caution must be the watchword in this position, as there is a deeply rooted industrial age belief that leadership is best demonstrated when the leader is the central and most visible figure (Parks, 2005). Rost (1990) described the twentieth century’s myth of leadership: “leadership as good management” (cited in Parks, 2005, p. 203). This present-day myth is reminiscent of and reflects the mindset of the dominant role managers held in the industrial age of a century ago, when Frederick Taylor’s scientific management dominated efficiency-seeking, bureaucratic organizations and human rights and environmental concerns were often ignored (Weymes, 2004).

In Rost’s interpretation of the myth, good management is the “apex of industrial organization and an industrial economy is unthinkable without it” (Parks, 2005, p. 203). The focus was on managerial leadership based on dominance, efficiency, and productivity, not people (Parks, 2005). Though appropriate during the industrial age, this philosophy has little value in most workplaces today and no value in the workplace of tomorrow.

Hellriegal, et al. (2005) discussed different responsibilities for managers in different positions in and layers of the organization. They described first-line managers as those with direct responsibility for production, while middle managers were responsible for setting goals, based on the goals of top management, for the first line managers to produce (Hellriegal, et al., 2005). They indicate that the vast majority of the top line managers’ time was spent planning and leading, with little time left to devote to managing (Hellriegal, et al., 2005). Of the competencies mentioned previously, they noted that communication, both formal and informal, was the most fundamental of all (Hellriegal, et al., 2005). That indicated the high importance of relationships between managers and others, both within and outside their organization, but seemed to conflict with their use of the term “management” to describe three very different roles.

Inherent in the front-of-the-ranks leader is the need to lead by example. When a leader leads from the front, everyone being led can see every move, every turn, and every hesitation. If the leader is trusted, the followers will move when they move, turn when they turn, and hesitate when they hesitate. The led cannot always see every thought or emotion, however. Communication allows leaders to convey the thought process guiding their moves. Followers need their leaders to turn around periodically so they can see and here what the leader is feeling and thinking. It is imperative that leaders, as much as they are able, take the time to explain why and how they decide what they decide. That requires face-to-face time and a devotion to communication.

Leaders that lead by example may not have much of their own original material. In those cases, leaders can still lead by example – they just have to use (temporarily) someone else’s example. Following in another’s footsteps can be done even if the placement of those footsteps is a memory. Some of my best challenges in leadership were met with actions I felt a previous leadership mentor would have made had they been there by my side, looking over my shoulder. As I began my venture into more significant leadership roles, I compiled a list of all the memorable leaders I had (not just the “good” ones). I then examined the qualities I felt made them memorable, and compiled a list of foundational principles on which to build. I was only able to build that list because those leaders were visible and took the time to communicate their logic and rationale while (or shortly after) they were making decisions that affected our organization.

Surround yourself with brilliant specialists

It was not long before I realized that I neither could nor should be expected to know everything about everything. That was initially a very humbling revelation, and required an immediate response (after I got over the pride crash). I was in the middle of a situation that required several small steps to be completed in preparation for a larger operation, and I first noted that in order to make the whole thing work using my traditional methods, I would have to be in several places at the same time. I approached my subordinates with a somewhat toned-down version of this revelation and asked for their suggestions. Their responses reflected nothing in the way of panic, and I noticed a group movement toward problem-solving. I immediately realized that each of them had expertise in a variety of areas, but primary interest in only a few, and they all seemed to know what each others strengths were (or at least those tasks the others knew better than they did).

It was not long before the small assignments had all been chosen for completion and a timeline had been set. I was pleased to see that the assignments were carried out to the letter, in most cases without any oversight on my part, and in all cases better than I could have done myself. It was comforting to see that in many cases the leader in each of these subgroups also had an assistant who was learning from them while assisting with the task. This was my first revelation that “managing means making it possible for others to work easily and productively, while at the same time bringing out the best in them” (Senguder, 2002). I was able to provide an easy and productive work environment in most cases by staying out of their way.

Surrounding yourself with specialists does not always mean surrounding yourself with those who agree with you. This practice should be avoided, as it often results in uninformed decisions and few in the leadership roles that are willing to take responsibility. Leaders should seek out those with whom they can work, not those with whom they usually agree. It is important to balance competence with candor, and all on the team should recognize who possesses the ultimate decision-making power. It is not necessary (or advisable) for all to agree on everything.

Capitalize on strengths

Capitalizing on strengths is important for both the individual and their team. Capitalizing on individual strengths means finding what one is good at and spending most of one’s time doing that thing. It means determining where one’s strengths, gifts, interests, and abilities intersect and spending the majority of one’s productive time in that activity.

From a team perspective, capitalizing on strengths means delegating tasks to those who have identified the above intersection in such as a way as to capitalize on the synergy of multiple team players. Each shares a collective responsibility while holding individual responsibility for their chosen task. There may be times when one who is not the “best” at completing a task would be the one chosen to complete it. Those times should be reserved for non-critical opportunities.

Aristotle has been quoted as saying "Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation." Having spent a fair amount of time in my life operating outside of my talents and, often times, outside the needs of the world, I personally appreciate this revelation. From a leadership perspective, I think the challenge is found when there are several team members with similar talents. The solution appears to be creating a work environment where those with overlapping strengths can showcase their strengths while complementing the strengths of others.

Stephen Covey (2004) identified a concept that was similar to that defined by Aristotle, which he called the 8th Habit. He identified the 8th Habit as finding one’s voice, and inspiring others to do the same. Covey (2004) explained that one’s voice was that thing or thing(s) one does so well that it appears no one else has any business doing it if you are available. Voice is the “unique personal significance” that is “revealed when we face our greatest challenges and which makes us equal to them” (Covey, 2004, p.5). Covey (2004) explained that one’s voice is found at the nexus of talent, passion, need, and conscience, and that each of us has an insatiable need to find it, though some live their whole life without doing so. In order to complete the 8th Habit, one needs to demonstrate leadership, in order to be able to inspire others to find (an exercise) their voice.

The second part of the 8th Habit is inspiring others to find their voice (Covey, 2004). Inspiring others to find their voice takes place in the action mode. It does not occur simply by being a good role model or by demonstrating leadership. It is based on a concerted and strategic effort to demonstrate leadership at every opportunity. It is proactive. It entails combining many leadership traits with opportunities to demonstrate them in the results of your efforts. It results in the development of leaders.

Spend time explaining up front

Leadership is not about providing a list of tasks and requiring others to complete them. It is not about running everything or getting recognition for the work of others. It is about guiding a team of people to a mutual goal and sharing your experience with others along the way. It is about building up the capability of others by helping them experience the process, with you there, available for questions, clarification, and discussion. It is about taking the time with others to ensure they could make wise decisions in your absence.
Explaining up front does not refer to the position of the leader in relation to the led. The focus here is on the time chosen to explain the vision, plan, and desired activity. The theme underlying the need for explanation is perspective. It is often one’s perspective that guides how one sees the world. That perspective could be from a micro view, related to the self-management and team competencies identified in Hellriegal, et al. (2005) or from a macro view, as explained in the strategic action and global awareness competencies (Hellriegal, et al., 2005). The perspective of the leader may never be completely shared by the led, but it must be understood.

Large-scale perspectives are fueled by change catalysts with a vision for growth beyond just the organization. Senge (2006) describes the forgotten leadership role as the one who designs the organization. In the design role, vision is important. If the captain on a ship wants to turn the ship within a set space and the one who designed the ship did not provide for such a turn, the perceived leader (the captain) cannot accomplish his desires. His inabilities do not reflect negatively on his leadership, but he is limited nonetheless. Avoiding this type of dilemma requires the use of systems thinking by all leaders, including the designer. Senge (2006) describes the process of systems thinking as The Fifth Discipline, following the disciplines of Personal Mastery, using Mental Models, Building Shared Vision, and Team Learning (Senge, 2006). Systems thinking involves understanding the system by contemplating the whole, not any individual part (Senge, 2006). Senge’s focus on systems thinking encourages leaders to take a step back, to consider what may not appear directly in front of them, to attempt to understand how smaller contributions can change the larger collection.

Do it once, do it right, never have to do it again

Do it once, do it right, never have to do it again is not about the perfectionist perspective. It is about putting your best foot forward, taking your best shot in the beginning, and doing what you can to avoid duplicating your efforts. Leaders owe it to those they lead to do the best possible job the first time. An organization that operates using this principle has a focus on quality, efficiency, and preservation of the organization’s reputation for both.

This principle is often confused with the myth that the leader is always right. I have seen this practiced often in higher education, where leadership is seen more as a duty than as a calling or an honor (Askling & Stensaker, 2002). The captain of a ship can be right in his order to turn the ship in a specific direction, but if the order is not conveyed to and understood by the individual responsible for the turning, the ship continues in the original direction. That means that the captain was right in his desire to execute, but wrong in his trust that the crew was prepare and that he was aware of the limitations.

Take ownership and make sure it is taken by others

The responsibilities of leaders are varied, and many might suggest that ownership of a plan is inherently delegated to the leader. It is important to note that in the traditional management role, ownership is counterintuitive to the role of those managed. Consequently, this observation may erroneously be limited to leaders. The error lies in the perception that only leaders can and do care enough about the organization or its operation to find a sense of ownership. Those within the organization (as was determined with the scientific management theory) are deemed to have little concern for the organization.

The challenge here is often the second part of the equation -- make sure ownership is taken by others, not just given to them. Think of the relay race where both team members are running (briefly) at the same speed and the one with the baton stretches out an arm. The second one grasps at the baton and takes off at lightning speed . . . with nothing in hand, and the baton falls to the ground. What does the first team member do? Turn around and walk back to the coach to complain about the ineffective handoff? Do they trust that the second will grab the baton and just stand there waiting patiently? No, the first oversees the situation to ensure the baton has been properly retrieved. The handoff is not complete without a transfer. It is the same with taking ownership!

People are most inspired when they believe in their mutual cause, sharing an organizational dream that promotes a better society with others (Weymes, 2004). However, dreams are not the solution to leadership challenges – feeling a sense of ownership in the organization is. This does not mean that one must own part of the organization or that the profits of the organization must result in profit to the individual. The ownership need can be fulfilled with the feeling that each person is an integral, yet separate part of the team. This may be accomplished by an entrepreneurial flavor, where each person feels and acts like a business partner, with a requisite demonstration of integrity and responsibility to their co-workers and their customers (Hakim, 2003).

Organizations that operate with this collective mindset are focused on providing a positive experience for everyone who is exposed to the organization. This mindset, then, is demonstrated to those with whom the organization has agreements, provides services, or produces supplies. Andros Consultants, a Canadian business-consulting firm specializing in assessment and coaching, strategy development, and program design and implementation provides the following guidelines for development of a personal management strategy:

1. Shift from managing people to managing a process
2. Develop and implement strategy, driven by Objectives, to produce satisfaction
3. Define the process in value-added and ‘real contribution’ terms
4. Manage the Changes
5. Measurement is critical
6. Focus on the Environment
7. Encourage Self-Management
8. Communication is the Life Blood
9. Processes require Balance

As I further consider what part of my personal managerial philosophy needs improvement, I will use each of these guidelines to strengthen my foundation.

Andros Consultants (2002). A Managerial Philosophy / Strategy. Retrieved August 27, 2007, from
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