DON’T PRESUME YOU KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR OTHERS

A LITTLE THING THAT MATTERS —-  

Back in the 1950’s, one of America’s most popular television shows was a program called “Father Knows Best”.  Once I became a father myself and gained a little experience at the demanding fatherly task, I began to seriously doubt that was always the case. And once I became a manager, it became quickly evident that most of the time, I — the designated authority figure — certainly did not know what was always best for others.

But tradition is a powerful force to overcome.  Fifty years ago, the management of most organizations operated on the belief that management most certainly knew best.  They believed that their company’s success demanded that their employees be owned and controlled. Management needed to dictate assignments, work, and career development opportunities. In exchange, the employee would be taken care of, assured of job security, granted reasonable pay and advancement opportunities, and could expect a good retirement. Paternalistic? Yes and it worked.

How times have changed. With today’s businesses and companies constantly concerned about their product or service competitiveness and staying power, few guarantees remain; especially the promise of lifetime employment. More importantly, in the face of mergers, layoffs, and the latest salary and benefits crunch, employees can no longer afford passivity. The global, socio-economic evolution that is changing the world of work, demands that all of us think for — and take care of — ourselves.

So as a contemporary point of departure on this subject, I believe it is wise for today’s managers to remind themselves whenever necessary, that managing is not synonymous with parenting.  One’s subordinates and direct reports are adults, not children; although you may think they act that way sometimes, as undoubtedly you do as well.  As adults, those you manage have a right to expect that you will respect their right to think for themselves, when it comes to matters of “what is best” for them.  Moreover, they are likely to rebel when their boss presumes to assume that role on their behalf.

Similarly, those you manage do not require you to protect them, like children, from the harsh realities that befall many of today’s workplaces.  Many of your subordinates have had to cope with far worse in their personal lives — death of loved ones, cancer, dysfunctional relationships, substance-abuse issues, child-rearing challenges, for example — than what work dishes out.  Most have learned to bear difficult burdens with maturity, adaptability, and to move on.  As I wrote in an earlier article in this “Little Things Matter” series, they deserve the straight truth.

Certainly as a manager gains experience, she or he has an important role to play as a mentor, councilor, and advisor from time to time.  Subordinates look to good managers to share their perspective and work-related experiences as one of the factors they need to ponder when facing an important decision.  But almost certainly most adults will resent and resist the notion that someone else alone presume to know what is best for them.

Still the instinct is strong in many of us –confident in our point of view — to lean heavily on someone else to follow our desired path.  The best managers work hard to resist this instinct, reminding themselves frequently of the paradox, that most of we humans are far more likely to accept advice, when we have the option of rejecting it.

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