When our children were younger, departure day for a family vacation was quite a test for me. Having had many preparatory conversations about the limits of our car’s trunk space and having reached what I thought was a consensus on departure time, I was consistently irritated by what seemed to me to be the excessively laid back, desultory, and profligate approach of everybody else in my family to the actual departure event. As excess baggage continued to pile up in the hallway and as the departure time faded in the distance, my mood soured.
My family will tell you that the first few hours of the trip were far from pleasant and I will tell you that I was not very pleased with myself either. Then one year, as I stood by the car wondering when we would finally hit the road and what we would be forced to leave behind, the following question flashed through my mind: WHAT DOES IT MATTER? My answer, after some serious thought: in the grand scheme of things, it did not. This single moment of insight improved our vacation departures considerably and served me well throughout my management career.
I share this story because I consider the DOES IT MATTER? question one of the most important questions any manager must be able to ask her or himself on a regular basis.
To manage is to regularly be confronted with situations and people’s behavior that either get under your skin, or that cause you to ask does this require some management response? The irritating situations are ready-made invitations for emotionally based responses you will later regret, while uncertainty about what if anything to do begs for some criteria to help you decide.
Simply asking yourself “does it matter and why or why not?” will save you a great deal of time and unnecessary stress. It will help clarify why you really need to act in certain situations and why in others, inaction is the better part of valor.
In my management workshop participants work a scenario where upon returning from a vacation, they find that a subordinate they left in charge has made a decision with which they do not agree. Do you reverse the decision or not? There is of course no one right answer. Moreover, it is hard to arrive at any answer until you have determined why it matters one way or the other.
Some participants, with a high need for control, invariably insist on an immediate reversal no matter what. Most participants, however, gradually arrive at the conclusion that it really has to matter for some legitimate and important reason before insisting that the decision be changed. Like the best managers, when it doesn’t really matter, they are able to put aside what they would have done, because they give greater weight to the challenge involved in reversing the decision and in managing the feelings, reputation, and continuing development of the subordinate they “left in charge” and are now responsible for mentoring by the example of how they respond.