A New Foundation


During the break in a training program with managers and executives, a manager asked me “Is there a simpler, more efficient way to lead and manage people? I have read dozens of books on leadership and management and they either each tell me something different, or tell me so much that it would take me years to learn to do everything they say. I don’t have time to learn all that stuff and do my job at the same time, so I was hoping you might be able to provide some guidance.”

Yes, there is. In “Winning Personality”, the Bartleby column in the March 20, 2021 issue of The Economist, the author concludes that “managers need to be less like Henry Ford, and more like Sigmund Freud.” Why? So that they can better understand and effectively coach the personality types they manage. This might not be too difficult if there are only four personality types as some propose [reference], but far more difficult if there are sixteen types [Myers-Briggs]. But whether there are four or sixteen, the fact remains that people to not come with “labels on their foreheads stating which kind of personality type they are” [Economist, 59].

In addition to understanding and effectively dealing with different personality types, managers are also expected to be emotionally intelligent, aware of both theirs and others emotions and how to deal with them. It is almost as if managers are to be more capable than professional psychologists in dealing with people while at the same time being able to accomplish the work that needs to be accomplished. The assumption here is that by being able to “manage people”, i.e., deal with their psychology, you can get them to do what is necessary.

Good luck with that.

The accomplishment of anything in an organization clearly requires the contributions of people. Drucker has said that management is getting things done through people. By that he means that managers need to “bring together” the contributions of different people at different times so as to accomplish a goal or objective. Somehow, the various contributions must fit together (like a jigsaw puzzle) and it is getting this to happen that is the job of managers.

So what are the contributions that are needed from people? They are the various types of products, services, and communications that they provide to others. Products like completed reports, assembled computers, or packed boxes. Services like analyzing data, recruiting employees, or filing tax and securities forms. And communications like authorizations for new expenditures, assignments of work, or annual reports to shareholders.

Accomplishing anything in an organization depends on whether people deliver what is wanted and needed when it is wanted and needed where and to whom it is wanted and needed. If that does not happen, it does not matter what their personality type is, what level of emotional intelligence that they have, or how motivated and competent they are.

If you want people you rely on at work to be more reliable – change what you manage!

If you want people to give you complete and accurate work on time – change what you manage!

If you are tired of getting excuses instead of results from people – change what you manage!

I have been training practicing managers and executives in MBA and executive education programs for over 40 years. In that time, I have learned that the biggest factor in the difficulty they have in obtaining reliable quality work from others is that they are managing the wrong thing. They are trying to manage people and getting them to understand what they want.

Managing people appears to work with lots of people, but not all. And for those for whom it doesn’t work, we “talk to them” or “discuss the situation” with them hoping that if we can get them “clear on our expectations”, they will change their behavior and do what is expected.

They should, but they don’t.

Why not? Well, the typical answer I get from managers and executives is that it has something to do with the people involved: they are not committed, they are incompetent, they are difficult, they are argumentative, etc. So the only recourse is to become resigned that things won’t change and effectively give up, or try to change them.  There is, however, another way.

What I get told from managers and executives is that how they manage most people works, so the problem has to be with the ones with whom the way they manage doesn’t work. That is, the problem is “them”, the people who are not doing what is expected. Seems like a reasonable explanation, doesn’t it.

Unfortunately its wrong.

The failure of people to reliably to deliver complete and accurate work in a timely manner is telling you something and that something is that you are managing the wrong thing! I didn’t say you were not managing, just that you were managing the wrong thing and that if you change what you are managing, you will get more reliable performance from anyone with whom you work – regardless of your or their position.