Someone asked me last week what good management is. We were talking about people management. And the exact question was “how will we know when we are good managers?”.
Perhaps rather glibly I said that I thought that good was a label and it was perhaps better to consider ourselves all in the process of learning to be better managers. I said that in my opinion management was very hard, and that while it was possible to get better, it was unlikely that anyone would get truly “good” at it, given the uniqueness, and the unique difficulties, of individuals and of human kind in general.
Reflecting on the question again later, I came up with three simple ways that I think I would use to measure good people management, in the context of a sustainable business, that is, one that is trying to last.
The first is retaining our self-respect as managers. “Managing people”, in my view, is a label for a particular type of relationship between two or more people. Relationships can be very hard if boundaries are not clear. Sometimes managers can be bullied, or at the very least rattled, by the results of the emotional turbulence or needs that the other person in the relationship has.
This is not good, for the manager, for the business, or for the person being “managed”. If the relationship becomes badly skewed, probably all parties will lose out.
Secondly, helping the business achieve its goals. I always try to remember that a business is not a therapy room. It may seem naive but, for me, a business is simply a group of people who have thrown their lot in together to achieve a common set of goals. Finding a compromise between using the business to help an individual to develop and grow personally, while focussing also on the good of the greater number seems to me to be essential. If sometimes the individual’s needs have to be sacrificed for the greater good, well, for me, that’s the right way to go.
Thirdly, retaining our imagination. Or at least enough imagination to believe that there is a better way, and that we just have to find it.
For me, a huge part of people management is about helping individuals in the company to learn, and to grow. Businesses are people. They are one and the same thing.
I love work and I love business. Mainly because it is grist to my personal development mill. It gives me something to work on, to worry over, to chew on. (I’d probably go quietly mad if left completely to my own devices.) And if I fail to truly engage with the relationships I have, perhaps by distancing myself emotionally from the people I work with, or by falling back on management techniques I have used again and again, it’s just another way of quitting, of giving up on my own and the other person’s development (assuming they want it).
Having faith in people is essential to good management. Faith that working together we will find a way through. This is essential if we are to build businesses that are truly sustainable. For me, growing that faith, despite the inevitable setbacks and let downs that come from working with other people, is therefore perhaps the best success measure of all.