For those of you who believe that a climate of fear and intimidation is the way to get the best out of your subordinates, please do not read any further. You will only get angry with me.

Years of personal management experience have taught me that what fear and intimidation primarily generates are to-the-rule compliance and passive self-preservation. They do not encourage initiative, passion, and creativity the foundation stones of high performing organizations.

As Gary Hamel points out in “The Future of Management”, organizations can almost guarantee themselves intelligence, obedience, and diligence in their personnel through a combination of effective recruiting and adequate control mechanisms. But only skilled and insightful management can create a workplace atmosphere where initiative, passion and creativity will flourish.

I believe creating the right sort of work atmosphere is a critical necessity for success as a manager.  It is certainly, in my experience, what the best managers know and do.  So what does this sort of working environment look, or more correctly feel, like to one’s subordinates?  At a minimum, I believe it is a working atmosphere or environment where:

1.  There is an easy sense of calm — a lightness of spirit — even in the face of heavy workloads, stringent demands for performance, rigid deadlines, and significant stress.

2.  Mistakes and failures are not feared; rather they are accepted as learning and growth opportunities in a workplace where initiative, creativity, and risk taking are encouraged.

3.  Subordinates understand that they will be judged primarily by results and not, within reason, by how they achieve them.

4.  The predominant philosophy is “hey, we can do this” whatever the this is.

5.  Laughter is common — it’s the work not ourselves that is taken seriously.

6.  Everybody genuinely cares about everybody else’s success not just their own.

7.  Everybody feels respected and believes that their accomplishments and contributions are appreciated big and small.

8.  Everybody fully understands what their overall organization is up to and about, and can explain to others how their individual contributions add value to the general success of their company, business, department or agency.

So how do the best managers make this sort of work atmosphere happen?  It starts with an understanding that it is their responsibility and role to do so. Make no mistake, the boss sets the tone of their organization for his or her subordinates.  Be uptight, your subordinates will be uptight.  Be remote and your subordinates will sense the cold air and keep their distance.  Treat every problem as a crisis and your subordinates will as well.  Lose your focus and sense of direction and others will feel lost along with you.  Display uncertainty and doubt on a regular basis and your subordinates will worry a lot.  But model the eight qualities above in everything you do and your subordinates will follow your lead.

Second, the best managers work at this in their own individual ways. While the goals are a constant,  you must achieve them in ways that convey to your subordinates your authenticity and your personal faith in the value of the work atmosphere you seek to create.  You can not fake your way to success here.  As I have said often in this forum, your subordinates are very smart people; they will ferret out any lack of sincere belief and commitment rather quickly.

Third, the best managers stay constantly attuned to the atmospherics around them.  They are constantly taking the pulse and temperature of their organization, communicating widely and often, asking questions that reveal what is really happening and what is on their subordinate’s minds, and constantly looking for ways to encourage the behavior and performance they desire.

Fourth, the best managers understand that their subordinates do not leave their personal lives, desires, and needs in the parking lot each morning when entering work.  Consequently, they make every effort to deal with everybody as whole individuals, helping them to integrate all aspects of their lives with the important mission or purpose of their work enterprise.

Finally, the best managers strive to constantly remind their subordinates of the overall purpose and value of the product or service they individually, and their organization collectively, provides.  The desire to do something of importance in life — and at work — to make some difference, is strong in all of us.  The best managers help their subordinates realize and maintain cognizance of what that is in the context of their work.

Categories: Managing & Leading, Motivating Top Performance

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