Over the years people have identified some styles of management with cute names. Most of the cute names are for obviously bad styles, but not all. Anyway, since I’ve learned a new one recently I thought it miht be fun to review. So I did, and by golly! I found a bunch of different styles to talk about.
My favorite, not because it’s the best style but because the definition is so amusing, is the Seagull. Seagull managers do to employees what real seagulls do to diners in open air seaside restaurants. They fly in from nowhere, screaming loudly, crap all over everything and everybody in sight, and then fly away.
There are two things that are interesting to me about the Seagull. One is that sometimes they actually do unblock a jam or cause action. Not a great way to do it, obviously, but it occasionally works. The other interesting thing is that seagull managers invariably give themselves credit when whatever project they crapped on finally gets done. The never notice that it was well on its way all by itself, or that the mess they made was simply added to the work needed to finish the project and not a help at all.
The Wishful Thinker
The Wishful Thinker bases decisions on unrealistic hopes for success (i.e., luck). Unlike the cautious “Hope for the best and plan for the worst,” the motto of the Wishful Thinker is “Assume the best, the more unlikely the better.” I once had a boss named Roger Gourd, who used to mimic the Wishful Thinker’s whine as a way to remind people that they were guilty of wishful thinking: “If we only had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs, if we only had some eggs!” In other words, stop making it sound like you have something going in a case where you really have nothing.
This one is pretty simple. The Ostrich does what real ostriches are said to do in times of difficulty, which is to stick their head into the sand and refuse to see the danger in an effort to prove that it doesn’t exist. It is a refusal to see the objective situation. “No, we don’t have that problem!” Something to keep in mind if you are an Ostrich is that when your head is in the sand, it makes a different part of your anatomy much more visible.
Sometimes we have to ask difficult questions of the boss, and we depend no the information or the decision in order to continue to make progress. Sometimes the question or the answer is uncomfortable, which of course is why they get the big bucks. The Great Oracle handles this situation by ignoring the question and refusing to answer. This is the manager to whom you have to send the same email request three times or more in order to get a Yes or a No. Since you are forced into being an annoying pest in order to try to get answers or approvals or direction, you will tend to avoid trying. And so you will often take no action.
Management by Walking Around has been…well…around for quite a few years. It originated at HP in the 1970s and was popularized by Tom Peters and others in the 80s. It used to be held up as a great thing because it meant you were out with the folk and not locked up incommunicado in your office. You were then supposed to be in better touch with the actual situation. It is similar to the Lean idea of gemba, which means“the real place.”
I have recently seen some discussion that characterizes this style as “active micromanagement.” I’m honestly not sure what to do with that because I always thought of this style as positive. I guess it’s possible to be too active and intrusive while you are walking around and I think that’s what the micromanagement caution is about. So be careful and follow the Star Trek rule – don’t interfere with the local civilization while you are observing it.
Here’s a thought. What if you treated your employees as knowledgeable peers? What if you shared problems, ideas, and solutions with them? What if you brainstormed along with them and brought your experience, knowledge, and business perspective into the discussion without directing it or squelching the ideas of others? That’s tough to pull off, but I bet you can see which of all of these styles would be the most powerful. Um, can you?
Also referred to as the Servant Leader, this one is about being there to help the employees achieve their best they possibly can. The Caretaker is a mentor and helper and partner and peer who is not so much into being in charge, but more into helping others succeed. This is the Agile model and it is a high bar that is difficult to attain.