Why you cannot be a law unto yourself

Being an effective boss involves more than issuing orders. It means behaving in an appreciative, unselfish way. Get it right, and you’ll get the best out of your employees.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

What we know today as ‘management’ took many centuries to evolve. For most of history, leadership was regarded as little more than the ability and strength of will to issue orders and kill anyone who disobeyed.

During the 1500s, Italian politician and philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, became one of the first thinkers to appreciate that both fear and love play a part in making leaders more powerful and effective.

Some 250 years later, in The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith described how productivity could be increased through the division of labour.

Then, in the late 19th century, economist Alfred Marshall and others started recognising the theoretical underpinnings of management as a profession.

The Harvard Business School was established in 1908, and the MBA (masters in business administration) degree introduced in 1921.

Despite this, ‘management’ was still seen as a mechanical function, where manipulative techniques were applied to get people to do jobs faster and at lower cost. Only later, when Dale Carnegie’s 1936 bestseller, How to win friends and influence people, showed how our personal behaviour affects others, did the ‘soft side’ of management begin to get recognition.

In 1946, Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, arrived on the scene. In an era where ‘management’ was still largely understood as ‘the boss orders, others obey’, Drucker’s work led to a growing realisation that the ‘soft’ side of management, namely, the personal behaviour of the manager, directly affects business performance.

A real-life example
All of this came to mind recently after my niece, Nancy, a PA to a senior executive in a large corporation, called seeking help.

“It’s been a disaster for me” she said. “I got on famously with X, but Y, my new boss, is a pig with not the slightest clue of how to manage. What can I do about it?” Here are the main problems she highlighted:

  • “Time and again he arrives in my office as I’m packing up and demands that I do an ‘urgent ‘ job for him. Usually it’s something he could easily have given me earlier. He does this in a panic, though, and I work late. Yet when I take the completed task to his office, I often find he’s not there but with a colleague, chatting about fishing or something.”
  • “When I’m chasing one of his unrealistic deadlines, he interrupts me every 10 minutes to ask how it’s going.”
  • “His manners are atrocious. There’s never a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’, the opening of a door or the offering of a chair.”
  • “I’ve tried to get him to meet briefly with me each morning to review our priorities for the day. He agrees, but next morning will say he doesn’t have time. If we do get to it, he soon changes his mind about priorities.”
  • “I’ve often been complimented by others for a job well done. But from him I never get a word of thanks or a pat on the back. But, if I’ve make a mistake, he’s very quick to criticise, and, more often than not, in front of others.”
  • “When we meet with clients, he never introduces me to them. In fact, he treats me as if I’m invisible, and even the clients are left feeling uneasy.”
  • “I had a clear and agreed-upon set of goals with my previous boss and always achieved most of them. When I met with Y for my first annual review with him, he proceeded to tell me what my goals should have been. He then had the audacity to rate my performance on these goals, which had never been discussed before then!”

Nancy was happy with all the terms and conditions of her employment. She liked the company, was well paid, had generous leave, medical aid, pension and so on.

But she was demotivated to the point of resigning from her job due to the ‘soft’ issues. Be conscious of your behaviour at work.

It affects the morale of your team, for better or worse, more than you realise.

If your attitude and actions are anything like those of Nancy’s boss, you could end up losing talented people!