It never fails. The reaction I get from an audience when I speak about effective management practices and, in particular, what I call The Paradox of Management, is one of shock and disbelief. And while I admit that, at first glance, my message may seem unusual, after a shot of objectivity it begins to make sense.
Quite simply, the Paradox of Management is a challenge: To be an effective manager, you must manage yourself to expendability.
Are you expendable yet? I know how strange that may sound, especially in these difficult times when job security is at an all-time low but if you’re a manager in business, it’s your job to become expendable. Let’s be honest, the manager who isn’t expendable is holding something back, and that can be disastrous to the wellbeing of an organization at many levels. The principles of effective management stem from a “value-based” system while managers who hold back subscribe to a “what’s-in-it-for-me” system which compromises the organization’s effectiveness, and ultimately hurts the bottom line.
Managers in a “what’s-in-it-for-me” system, manage as though their jobs depended on it. In a “value-based” system, they manage as though their company depended on it. As a small business owner, who do you think I value more? Effective managers facilitate the connection process inherent in a value-based business by communicating the organization’s vision to their team members and ensuring that through their work, the company is living its purpose more fully. That’s good business.
In their book, “Built To Last,” Porras and Collins present a concept that lends itself to this idea of expendability which I propose. After six years of research, they determined that the most successful and visionary companies of the last century were managed by leaders whom they refer to as “clock-builders” versus “time-tellers.” The difference lies in their perception of management.
Time-tellers are concerned with building careers. Clock-builders are concerned with building companies. So effective were these highly visionary managers that they ensured the success of their organization beyond their tenure. What would have happened to the Walt Disney company after the death of its founder in 1966 if Walt himself hadn’t empowered his employees through his vision? Though the company relied heavily on him during his lifetime for guidance and inspiration, he successfully built a clock that went on ticking years after his death, and went on to achieve success beyond what Walt himself could probably have imagined.
And so it is with us as managers and business owners. Whether we manage a department, a small business or a Fortune 500 company, we are called to build teams that are able to perform well beyond our ability to manage them.
In their book, “How To Be An Effective Teacher,” Harry and Rosemary Wong cite an example of a fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Gould, who for reasons beyond her control was not able to make it to class on time. She wondered what 25 unsupervised fifth graders would do. She thought the gym teacher would be annoyed because they were all going to be late for gym. “When she arrived in her class room,” the authors explained, “what she found was a beautiful reward for 20 years of loving students and striving to make them responsible and self-sufficient. What she found was an empty classroom and the following note left on her desk: “Dear Ms. Gould, We took the attendance, did the lunch count, completed our morning math warm-ups and went to gym. Love, Your Class.” Bar raised. Value created. Productivity ensured. Expendability achieved.
Teaching a fifth-grade class may be quite different than managing in business, but Ms. Gould’s style of teaching is right on target with how effective managers should manage. And if you’re still concerned about job security, don’t be. If you’re that good a manager, that you’ve managed yourself to expendability, the opportunities for you are endless. There isn’t a single company that wouldn’t stand in line for such an effective manager. Don’t hold back in your management style for fear of being expendable. It’s the best business decision you’ll ever make.
Manny García-Tuñón, vice president of Lemartec, an firma international design and construction firm in Miami, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.