I was once asked how I would describe my management style? My reply, “an amalgamation of all those things that I have observed other managers do that work grafted onto the essential me.” It was the best I could do on the spot but in hindsight, it still seems fairly accurate.
Today, in my management workshops, I encourage participants to consider a similar approach to evolving their management styles. Find the good managers around you and observe how they get things done. I also encourage them to adopt the motto that “a good idea is a good idea whether it’s yours or not”. I believe thinking this way is critical to success as a manager because the job is simply too hard and complex — and our personal intelligence and experience simply too limited — for us to always have the best ideas, the right approaches, the ideal solutions, or the most creative insights on our own.
In a recent book containing a collection of his own “New Yorker” articles entitled “What the Dog Saw”, author Malcolm Gladwell draws upon an early 1990s essay by psychologists Robert Hogan, Robert Raskin and Dan Fazzini — “The Dark Side of Charisma” — to describe one of the worst kinds of managers: those who resist the ideas of others because they think ” it will make them appear weak” or that “they don’t believe that others have anything useful to tell them”. Furthermore, contends Hogan and company, these managers tend to take more credit for successes than is usually warranted, eschew accepting blame for failures, and typically have more confidence in their own judgments than their track record would seem to justify (PP. 365-366). If you have ever worked for this type of manager, you know just how frustrating and maddening these qualities can be.
In an earlier blog post I called “Being Smart”, I referred to the work of psychologist Carol Dweck whose research provides powerful evidence for a direct link between success and a growth mind-set that believes your intelligence, talents, and skills can develop and expand over time through experience, hard work, and exposure to the wisdom and example of others. I believe such a mind-set is certainly an asset for those wishing to succeed as managers.
The best managers constantly open themselves up to a diversity of views, actively seek out perspectives that differ from their own, are quick to acknowledge somebody else’s idea when it is superior to their own, and try never to forget, as a colleague of mine likes to say “you are rarely the smartest person in the room”. When evaluating and selecting subordinates, these managers favor those individuals willing to speak up and challenge them because they are always ready to expose their own ideas to the insights of others. Rather than seeing contradictory ideas as a sign of weakness or a challenge to their own perceived brilliance, they embrace them as an opportunity to learn and grow wiser.
From the perspective of a subordinate, these managers are powerfully empowering. They exude respect for the input of those entrusted to their management skill, they encourage initiative and creative thinking from those around them, and they significantly enhance their chances of building a high performing, collaborative team.
At times, because we are human after all, maintaining an open mind when challenged by the ideas of others, will take some effort for any variety of reasons. The best managers, however, work at expending that effort as often as possible.