G, as in... Golf
By Frédéric Sos - February 28th 2020
"I'll be a good manager when I'm able to spend my days on the golf course!"
William is an outstanding manager. He stands out in particular for: his tremendous familiarity with all matters of importance, a spirited approach to getting involved in day-to-day operations, sharp mind, quick learner, relentless pursuit of results, mastery of economic data, keen market instincts, and a multifaceted analytical framework that allows quickly assessing situations in their totality while still being able to sift through key details. As a country-level CEO when we first met, William has climbed the ladder toward more global responsibilities at the Group's executive level.
The introduction to a success story, right? Well not exactly… Employees complained about his demanding nature and tendency to "micromanage": he's omnipresent and unavoidable, his concerns over retaining absolute control have meant setting up highly restrictive reporting systems. His decision-making authority is vast, and many team members, recognized for their professionalism and credentials, rail against having their autonomy limited; they feel his practices reflect a lack of confidence in them. Consequently, William is overworked and engaged on all fronts, adversely affecting his behavior, which is sometimes perceived as overbearing, even though he's a rather sensitive individual… And despite all these efforts, it should be pointed out that all hasn't necessarily gone the way he'd like, and results have left him a tad disappointed.
As awareness of the underlying context settled in, William, who was just as hard on himself as he was on others, came around to recognizing that he had failed to reach the level of efficiency he was seeking from the post, summing up the situation tersely: "I'll be a good manager when I'll be able to spend my days on the golf course!".
William is not the only manager to draw such a conclusion. Does a "good" manager recognize the autonomy demonstrated by his/her teams? Put otherwise, should becoming non-essential to the company's successful operations be hailed as the supreme accomplishment that attests to one's ability to manage?
My mind turns to this Administrative and Financial Director of a large French group who had to face the doubts of his President: 14 months into his tenure, he had still not convinced his colleagues and "take full command of his post". When we first met, the exercise of having him define his own responsibilities, as in explaining the results he was personally asked to deliver, proved to be quite difficult. After only being able to state responsibilities that in fact were assigned to his inner circle, he offered me a laconic: "So in reality, I'm not responsible for a thing then!". This epiphany actually confirmed the diagnostic of his President (who had nonetheless refrained from sharing it with his frustrated Director).
Upon occupying the post, this brilliant and highly engaged individual had emphasized building support for his inclusion by working around the edges, which were already under the expert purview of his team members. As such, he had vacated the terrain where his input and that of his post was most anticipated. He had sewn some discord among his own team, whose most efficient members took offense at their youthful Director's incursions into their own sphere of responsibilities.
Should he have been advised to work on his golf game instead? Such a suggestion would have probably given him perspective… and provided his team members with a bit more space to breathe.
Therein most likely lies the source of some of the ambiguity. The notion of expanding the staff's autonomy as well as their scope of decision-making, provided the individuals involved are entirely capable of assuming said responsibilities, obviously leads to improved organizational performance. It's also likely that the manager's calendar can be lightened to an extent, freed of the tasks being handled by others. However, it's not altogether certain that he'll be able to devote all his newfound time to leisure pursuits. For one thing, his managerial duty doesn't exactly disappear: he's still the one ensuring each team member's personal efficiency, which is a tall order. He can then more easily turn his attention to the specific value-added potential derived from his function. But what actually is this specific responsibility?
I'm reminded here of what my friend Nello-Bernard Abramovici had called, at the beginning of the 1990's, the manager's fundamental question: "what am I interfering with today?". This question overlaps two concerns: "what will I absolutely have to focus on?" and "what should I absolutely avoid getting involved in?". On the face of it, this question, whose formulation can be adapted to the preferred time frame (day, week, month, year or even longer), often yields a representation of one's role that is substantially different from that of team members.
Then again, if the answer proves to be too elusive… you can still go golf!