Considering Management

What if management is simply taking the unconscious aspects of an organization, or group making them conscious and then actively making the changes required to improve those aspects?  Sort of like life in general.

Trying to view management through this framework does a few very useful things.  The first being everyone can step back from leader worship.  Not everyone is a leader, not everyone can be a leader and not everyone will be a leader; quit trying to make it otherwise.  But, everyone can begin to learn to identify unconscious actions in themselves and each other then try to change those actions.

A manager would simply be someone who has become adept at identifying those unconscious actions and thoughts in individuals and an organization, bringing them into conscious levels and working on changing them if required.  Work cultures become what they are due to the people in them and how the relationships between those people form, grow and change.  A manager works to consciously create a work culture that is beneficial for the end goal of that organization/group/team.

Next, viewing management from this framework would lead to managers not becoming stagnant.  To become adept at identifying these unconscious habits, one needs to practice and the best place to practice would seem to be on oneself, constantly.  A framework of this sort has self-improvement built into itself without needing to specify.  A manager taking this sort of framework as their way of management would be a dynamic individual that is constantly growing meaning that they will probably constantly be finding new habits in the organization to identify and tinker with meaning the organization will also be continually growing.

Finally, taking on this framework means a manager can explain some of their practices to those they are managing.  When a manager requires some sort of meeting or training, under a framework of identifying unconscious habits, a manager has the potential to explain to an employee why they are being put through the training that seems to be ‘common sense’ or not useful. The manager has the potential to say to the employee that they had identified habit x within the team which seemed to be hindering the team so, this training was scheduled to bring this habit into the open for the team so that they can identify it and agree to a way to change it.

This sort of framework seems to be a lot like a sports training coach.  The coach gets the team together and starts working on training some aspects of the sport until they become unconscious habits.  He also watches the team and identifies current unconscious habits of team members or the team overall which are detrimental to the team during a game.  Then, the coach creates a new, beneficial habit to replace the old one and trains it into the team until it becomes unconscious again.

The most beneficial aspect of this framework, for me, is the ability to explain the reasons for something in a way that makes sense.  Having to go through different “trainings” for some of the things I have done has always ended up being frustrating.  There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the trainings and they do not tend to be beneficial due to their one-size-fits-all style and lack of context.  A management framework as I am describing will cut out the one-size-fits-all trainings and would actually be able to provide context for the trainings in the form of, “I, as the manager, have noted x habit within the organization/team.  This habit is not helpful to the team because of a, b, c reasons.  So, as a team/organization, we are going to examine this habit, consider it and agree to a way to change the habit into something helpful to the team/organization.”  Finally, an answer to “Why do we have to do this?” as I am sure many people get tired of hearing from employees.

Small Town Economics

As I spend more time in a small town and compare it to my experience(s) in cities and even just regions closer to larger population centers, I am starting to learn one of the primary problems in small towns: lack of competition.

I mean lack of competition in an individual sense.  There is no need for self-improvement or even, maintenance of quality in small towns for many positions just because there is no one else to take that place if it is an essential job.  For example: middle management of any business.  Once an individual gets into that sort of position in a business that stays stable within the community and can get comfortable, they really have no need to improve themselves or the business really.  No other business will likely move in due to it being prohibitively expensive to move in and start a new business and there are not many new candidates moving into town to cause competition in the field itself for promotions etc.  So, it becomes very easy to fall into a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude about everything.  This hurts small towns most when it comes to leadership.

Having dynamic leadership is one of the best ways to promote expansion, development and improvement I think, having managers/mayors who are always willing to try new things and help those below them become more capable.  Dynamic leadership happens when non-dynamic individuals filter down/are limited in their promotion abilities because of competition or cannot get into higher levels due to a lack of initiative.

A mayor and/or board which is not dynamic, not curious and willing to look into new ideas and not really in competition because of no one else running for those elected positions ends up leaving a town stagnant.  The stagnant individuals essentially create a ceiling of potential and end up pushing those with more initiative, abilities or curiosity out and away (this tends to be associated with the younger generation) which then means that there are fewer opportunities which leads to even more people leaving essentially filtering down to those with the least amount of dynamism or initiative so that those who stay end up being the people who get up, go to work, come back and just sit in front of the television and doing nothing really at all with their spare time and becoming unhealthy and disconnected.

The question then becomes, how can small towns reverse this cycle now that it has generally started?  The obvious solution is to get more people coming to promote competition but, they need to be able to have a viable life there, which is very hard to do since it seems that most of the possible work in small towns is either healthcare or construction related, with the latter requiring driving where it could be more efficient to simply live closer to the worksite.  Thanks to cars, small towns are not self-sufficient anymore with small stores employing small amounts of people in the town to service everything unless they have some major industry which has yet to move away or is not mobile.  The problem with those industries is that if they could move they probably already have at this point and those that are not mobile tend to be seasonal (agriculture, waterways, tourism).   Seasonality does not make for a stable life, especially without being able to get land for oneself either.  The other job industry growing right now is technology.  Technology requires infrastructure which, sometimes, does not exist in small towns or it is not up to the requirements of the technology yet.  The only way to improve that infrastructure though would be through an increase in funding which would only happen if, instead of shrinking and aging, the population of small towns was growing and younger.

We come back to, how does one stop this cycle?  It seems that the most effective way would be for leadership to recognize its own failures – something that only happens through competition.  Not to mention, recognizing the problems, which is another major issue for most of the small towns I have seen; they simply cannot recognize that there is a fixable problem that could benefit the town often because, no one wants to change at this point and everyone is afraid of dynamism.  People want the same things that have worked for their entire lives to apply in the exact same way to everyone else and then magically everything will be dandy.  Quite an interesting world those people live in so, next time you’re listening to a small-town friend of yours complain maybe just ask them, what have they done to help their small town besides simply existing in it?

Leadership

What if we re-examined “leadership”?  More importantly, the way it gets taught and treated.

The various “leadership” courses I have been in have always pushed and been framed with the idea of “everyone can be a leader”! Which is not inherently wrong, but, maybe that has become too literal.  The general framework, as I have perceived it, has been that every single individual can be a leader at the same time and it is based on making sure everyone has a chance to participate and talk in some sort of a group task/discussion.

This idea of everyone being a leader training waters down true leadership (much like the use of the word “hero” has watered down what a hero actually is) and has led to people feeling less empowered to actually lead.  This is because leadership training focuses on “management” instead of actual leadership and focuses too much on teams and making sure everyone feels involved.  Those too things are reasonably important skills yes, but they are not leadership and do not teach individuals how to be a leader, it teaches them how to play office politics.

So, obviously, my definition of a leader is different than that which the training is teaching towards.  My idea of a leader is someone who has a specific goal and can take steps to accomplish that goal.  The better the leader, the bigger the goal and better able to plan and implement the steps to that goal.  But wait, that is just what a manager does, split a goal into tasks and get people to accomplish those tasks to achieve said end-goal.  No.

A manager receives an end goal from some other entity along with some of the general tasks that have to be done to achieve those goals and then reports on progress.  A manager, at any level, is simply the reporting arm of an entity between the on-the-ground work and higher levels.  That does not inherently mean that CEO’s are leaders though either, they are just among the highest level managers.  Sometimes there are leaders among all of these levels, including the on-the-ground people but often enough, they are managers and nothing more and simply get trained in how to manage other groups somewhat more effectively.  Managers help hold team together, leaders attract teams of people.  I think that is one of the fundamental differences.  Leaders are those much more charismatic people who have end goals that they are working towards an then end up with teams of people all helping achieve the same end goals.

The problem with this idea though is, you cannot then “teach” leadership.  There is no such thing as “leadership” skills. It also means that not everyone can be a leader (at the exact same time), hierarchy is essentially required for this type of leadership, not exactly a palatable idea to our current society because it is much easier to say that everyone can be a leader and leave it at that than actually deal with leadership and roles.  But, that is because of big assumptions made.

“Everyone cannot be a leader,” does not inherently mean there is a gender, racial, class, education, whatever bias.  It is simply a statement that not every single individual can possibly be “the leader” at all times, the buck has to stop somewhere and that would be the actual leader (who, probably, is the original initiator of the project).  There can be a group of leaders working towards a similar or even same goal but, someone had to bring them together and truly focus them, that person is the leader of the other leaders.

That shows the sort of skills that leaders actually need: how to find people and how to START something. Leadership training focuses on “problem-solving,” “synergy,” “discussion,” “empowerment” etc.  (at least the training’s I’ve been in).  Actual leadership is someone who has a goal and actually knows how to winnow through individuals to talk to the people in the correct mind-set and context(s) to implement parts of the goal or see the value in said goal and will line up with the initiator (leader).

Then, and I think this is the biggest difference between actual leaders and others, the leader starts towards their goal. That starting, the initiation, is also one of the least “taught” aspects of leadership it seems.  This can be seen in how goals are dealt with.

Nearly everyone has probably heard about S.M.A.R.T. goals.  You know, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant/realistic, timely or your favorite incarnation.  Notice one thing about that list?  You never start anything!  I have had plenty of goals and ideas for goals that could fall into this type of goal but, I never start towards said goal(s), perhaps some of my S.M.A.R.T.est goals have never come to fruition because I did not initiate, I did not take the steps to START towards them.  I think that leadership training has to turn towards that, teaching (somehow) how to initiate something, how to take that first step.  Then we will actually be educating and empowering people to be leaders.  Until that point, we will simply be teaching managers to keep the world spinning as it is.

What do you think?  Is what I am saying even making sense?