Are you a smart manager?

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“If you are the smartest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room”

Anonymous

Michael Dell founder of Dell Computers has a similar quote “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people……..or find a different room”

As managers, what does this mean?

Logically the smartest person in the room should be the manager. After all, who will provide the direction and manage the organisation?

Quite clearly this is wrong. Why?

The people who think they are the smartest person in the room tend to have the last say and rarely listen to or acknowledge different ideas or opinions. Many show their distain or disinterest by interrupting others in mid-sentence or displaying negative non-verbal traits such as rolling their eyes, looking away or checking their phone. I can remember organising a leadership training program for our Rotary Club for local businesses and organisations. A local council put up several candidates and one refused to attend stating “I have an MBA so I don’t need leadership training”

It would have been a waste of time and money for them to attend, not because of their MBA but because of their attitude.

However, learning should continue throughout your life, both at work and outside work. Learning does not stop with finishing school or a degree. People only learn and grow when being challenged. Being the smartest person in the room often means that you will not be challenged. Great managers surround themselves with people who challenge them as they realise that to continue to be relevant and innovative, you must be open to new ideas and concepts. By valuing other’s opinions and accepting that you are not always the smartest person in the room, healthy, constructive and sometimes heated debates will help your organisation and help you.

A business owner I know, who would be very smart and is well qualified academically, has failed to grow his business as profitably and quickly as planned. While he is a pleasant, polite and intelligent, he is rarely challenged and appears to not listen to others.  He claims he has little time or interest to read books. It would seem that these circumstances had adversely affected his staff turnover and business. Staff initiatives and ideas appear to be stifled. Being in charge does not mean you have all the answers. I have found that some of the smartest people can be found anywhere in an organisation, you just need to find and develop them. Many years ago, while working for a transport business I found a driver who had the attributes and energy to become a qualified driver trainer. Despite initially being hostile to management. he turned his experience into a new position, where he greatly added to the business by training drivers, thereby reducing accidents, injuries and fuel consumption. Furthermore and probably more importantly this improved his motivation and morale, and his own self image.

As managers we probably all have the tendency to act as the smartest person in the room.

The challenge is to resist this temptation without of course, abdicating your responsibility as a manager.

Here are 3 suggested approaches:

  1. Ask more questions and listen for the answers. Questions are powerful leadership tools (Questions and Answers) Resist telling people what to do and respond to ideas with questions to help you and others better develop their ideas. Seek first to understand before offering your own perspective.
  2. Have the courage to remain silent and help others decide. This does not mean that you cannot veto an idea or approach. Through using open questioning techniques ideas can be modified or adapted in a constructive way to get the best outcome.
  3. View ideas as a ‘glass half full’ not ‘half empty’ as it is a positive approach. People respond to the positive rather than the negative. Negative discussions should only centre around risks.

As a manager can you resist the temptation and follow these approaches?

These approaches often challenge us as managers, although they highly likely to engage and motivate our subordinates, make them feel part of a team and allow new ideas and approaches to surface. You will be challenged.

Why don’t you ‘give it a go’?.………………….

Are you an ostrich or meerkat manager?

“What makes us human may not be uniquely human after all”

David Attenborough – naturalist and TV compare

What kind of manager are you? An ostrich or a meerkat?

Last year I travelled to Southern Africa and experienced viewing the amazing African wildlife from a canoe and a 4WD safari vehicle. African wildlife is best viewed quietly, early in the morning or in the evening. I love watching David Attenborough’s nature series. The most recent series I watched was about meerkats. Unfortunately, I did not see an meerkats on my trip. However, I did see some elephants, hippos, lions, wild dogs, jackals, crocodiles, various species of antelopes, buffalos, hyenas, monkeys and ostriches.

This got me thinking about management styles and the animal kingdom. On safari you have plenty of time to think and reflect. Watching the sun rise, lying under a tree during the heat of the day or drifting in a canoe. Some animals remind me of some of the managers and business owners I have met over the past 30 years.

Think of the ostrich. What do they do? They run, hide and avoid a problem. An ostrich does not actually bury its head in the sand when confronted by danger. However, they flop to the ground and remain motionless. This passive behaviour only exacerbates the danger and it becomes an easy target for a predator. Not much good if a lion or hyena is hungry and chasing you.

Ostrich managers refuse to recognise reality, do not listen, are often loaners, refuse to seek advice, don’t act on facts and resist change. They do things the same way they have always done and fail to adapt.

On the opposite side of the African animal kingdom, are meerkats. Meerkats are a species of mongoose. They live in colonies of up 40 animals in desert or semi-arid areas of Southern Africa. What are the traits of a meerkat? A meerkat sits up, scans the horizon to watch for danger, is constantly alert and addresses the risks and adapts. Meerkats also display altruistic behaviour and watch out for others in the colony and work as a team. This includes lactating to feed others babies. They nurture, mentor and teach young meerkats to hunt. For example, adults pull the tail of scorpions, a favourite food so young ones can safely learn to hunt.

Meerkat managers build strong cohesive teams, are always looking out for others in their team, mentor staff members, look out and adjust for risk, collaborate with others and continue professional education and………

So, some questions you may wish to ask yourself….

Are you an ostrich manager or a meerkat manager?

What are you DOING to become a meerkat manager?

What should you STOP doing to become a meerkat manager?

Managing your emotions

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far”

Daniel Goleman (originator of the term ‘emotional intelligence’)

Does expressing your emotions openly in business help serve your goals or your company’s goals? In my opinion, it depends on what emotions you are expressing, and whether they are negative or positive.

Many years ago upon finding out that my manager had sacked a colleague, I confronted him. I believed his actions were unjustifiable and were to cover up his own incompetence and failures. On display were my negative emotions which are destructive and de-habilitating. It was not a wise action. It showed my lack of control and self-awareness and these actions indicated that I was not management material either. Furthermore, I didn’t know if burning this bridge would have negative impacts for me in the future.

Do you really think that your bridge-burning, fire-breathing rant is going to change things? That company management will suddenly come to their senses?

No.

I actually learnt from this mistake and vowed to hold my tongue and display more self-awareness and professionalism in the future.

Years later I experienced a similar situation when two managers were using me as a scapegoat for the business not performing and recommending my termination. Upon hearing this I decided on a positive approach rather than being confrontational and burning my bridges. Positive emotions are liberating and invigorating. Think of people you work with who are positive and enthusiastic. They get things done. People follow them. People like working for them – they are leaders.

Luckily I built up constructive relationships with others in the company and with clients and my position was saved, whilst they were forced from the business. Less than 3 years later, one of them came to me with a very large potential customer for our own logistics business. We were successful in securing this customer and it helped underpin the business and formed a foundation for the business to grow.

This business saving opportunity would not have happened if I had burnt my bridges……….