Learning to manage people

I’m closing in on six (+) years (the + is for my victory lap at the undergrad level) of business-related education and I’ve yet to take a class explicitly intended to teach me how to manage people.  Now, there might be some sort of academic theory against teaching someone how to manage people but I studied organizational management for four + years and now, upon reflection, wonder why I’ve never taken such a class.

Maybe it’s not sexy enough.  But organizations expect us to know how to manage when we get there (kind of like personal money management, but we’ve seen what that assumption has done to many Americans’ finances).  Yet the common reality is that people (many? most?) quit their jobs because of their managers (not hard evidence, but it will do here).

All that to get to this: Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought has a post on Non-Hierarchical Management—a very appropriate primer on management basics for anyone new to the responsibility (or, for that matter, anyone who isn’t any good at it).  Lots of good thoughts, especially this one (a smart person once told me that his job was to clear obstacles for physicians, he described his job as a problem solver, good stuff):

Point 5: Clear obstacles.

This is the bulk of what non-hierarchical management is about. You’ve got good people, they’ve got good responsibilities. Now it’s your job to do everything in your power to help them get them done.

A good way to start is just by asking people what they need. Is their office too noisy? Did they get confused about something you said? Are they stuck on a particular problem? Are they overwhelmed with work? It’s your job to help them out: get them a quieter office, clarify things, find them advice or answers, shift some stuff off their plate. They shouldn’t be wasting time with things that annoy them; that’s your job.

But you have to be proactive as well. People tend to suffer quietly, both because they don’t want to come whining to you and just because when you’re stuck in a rut all your attention is focused on the rut. A key part of being a manager is checking in with people, pointing out that they’re stuck in a rut, and gently helping them out.

Some think non-hierarchical management (NHM) is hooey.  I think health care is in desperate need of letting more people make more decisions especially at the patient care level (as front line as it gets) and NHM is a start.

Anyway, good luck in that new management role.

ADDITION: An acquaintance made an in-person comment today that “management is common sense.”  I’d amend: management is composed of common sense principles.  The problem is that “common sense” is defined differently by different people.  And not everyone is lucky enough to have “it.”

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