It was at my management crash course at the Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore, where my teacher (a visiting professional from Tata Institute Of Fundamental Research) raised a question that has come to haunt me on several occasions in my career. The question was very simple.
Do you respect your Managers for their age or actual performance?
The question stunned us and the silence in the hall was eerie. The reasons were obvious. For each of us (we were a fairly large group) was a ‘Manager” of our group and the question seemed loaded.
My teacher expected the silence and chose to extend it deliberately. The provocation was meant to be surgical. In spite of several uncomfortable glances across the hall and some audible local discussion amongst some members, the teacher chose to remain silent. The hall seemed to be of glass and we chose not to throw stones.
The teacher then proposed a string of answers. Like kids, we were to note down a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ against each. But what the heck, we were students. Our managerial cloaks were long forgotten in our offices miles away from our classroom!
1. Your Managers are stagnant and don’t have time to get better as they don’t think they need to get better.
2. Managers don’t understand how effective it is in improving their own performance.
3. They don’t have time. While “lack of time” may be just a symptom of reason #1, it’s also a reality that most managers these days are terminally busy and have difficulty finding time to eat, let alone coach.
4. It’s tough to learn. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult leadership competencies to learn.
5. Managers often spend too much time coaching other ‘poor’ performers and do not even think of their own competitiveness in the changing world. Or they have a bias.
6. You respect their age and it is only ‘your’ responsibility to learn from their experiences and not vice versa.
As the options sinked in, I suddenly realized that for the first time in our past week of workshop and lectures, we all had similar views. Discussions weren’t necessary. The teacher continued with the lesson, without even asking our opinions. The provocation was complete.
We went back to our residential quarters with some notes that would remain indelible in our minds and careers….
1. Stop trying to convince managers about the importance of coaching others. Show them the need of change in the entire unit – top downward. Make it a business case, not an HR driven social agenda.
2. Establish clear, measurable, non-negotiable expectations with clear guidance on how to achieve these. Then get rid of all the non-value activity.
3. There is no short-cut solution to teaching and learning coaching skills – it’s a significant investment of time and effort. It needs to be part of your ‘revenue’ side in your balance sheet. Your employees should not be shy of asking their managers to share their skills in related areas. Let them falter. You have nothing to lose…
4. Use internal and external experts who have a knack and passion for bringing out the best in others. Over time, this capability can’t help but be transferred…
5. Do not respect managers because of their age; but only for their ‘credibility’ and ‘performance’. But you need to be wise enough to understand and identify that he or she is ‘credible’. One may argue that their performance is as good as yours if you are reporting to them! But it is equally true that they realize that it is in their interest to coach you and enhance your capabilities. It is not a cost but an essential element of his ‘ROI’.
While these notes may sound overly simple, the devil is in the details. All employees – current & prospective – need to understand the strengths of their own selves and their organizations.
For employees today are the managers of the future. I still shudder today when I see something to the contrary. Otherwise why does an organization seek to hire talent from outside when a vacancy is created? They simply do not have internal options!