Our curious leader, he’s never there
He’s playing second fiddle to sumptuous despair
Our curious leader is covered in deep sin
And when I grow up you know I want to be like him…..
Of all the easy targets for bloggers, tweeters and whatever you call the lost souls who use LinkedIn, management lies as prone as a pigeon’s playground. And for the purposes of this polemic I shall set aside the purists’ frustrations and include the notion of leadership, as they’re interchangeable in practice and most who both practice and are subject can’t really tell the difference (or quite understandably don’t bother to).
If you believe the internet, which is of course true, everywhere on this fair planet management is in crisis, artificially perpetuating an archaic, zombified hierarchical system that stifles freedom, creativity, self-expression and fulfilment. Managers themselves are a self-interested, interfering, dogmatic, callous bunch of utter incompetents, inconsistently and arbitrarily wielding unjustified authority. We’re all guilty, and all responsible.
In my thirty-ish years of working I’ve managed musicians, project managers, architects, civil servants, prosecutors, administrators, warehouse pickers and packers, quantity surveyors, roadies, technicians, computer programmers, builders, just about all of the trades within facilities management, accountants, motorcycle couriers, lawyers and artists. There are probably more I can’t recall. I can say with some assurance that none of these trades and professions were easy to manage, and a lot of were damned challenging.
How can it be that bloody difficult? Especially if you’ve never managed anyone. In the sanguine safety of text books, TED talks, blog posts, 140-character sermons and other vehicles for self-expressed wisdom it’s a doddle . And the less you do it, remarkably, the easier it seems to be.
That’s because it doesn’t have to deal with relationships, agendas, political ambitions, reward, ego, limited resources, bureaucracy, fads and panaceas, the unrelenting need to fill the spaces between us, deadlines, motivation, life stages, personal circumstances, communication (or lack of) and language, love (and lust), expectations, pressure, reporting, grievance, ever-increasing governance, international differences, the vacuous notion of culture, time, commerciality, appraisal, priorities – and luck. Amongst other things. The stuff that chews up the list of “fifty things successful managers do”.
There’s other stuff too. Balancing the need to make decisions with the desire to be inclusive, and the need to get stuff done that may not be popular with a desire to be liked (even occasionally). Being a generalist leading experts, when the team know more than you do about the subject matter. A dash of imposter syndrome. Having stuff you absolutely have to do, but someone just needs “five minutes”. Being told you need to be more resilient, when you just want to crumble. And feeling like you’re the loneliest person on earth.
All managers need help. Given. Those who claim not to, need a different help.
There are those whose reflections help make us better people, so we can be better managers, like this post from @Fuchsia_blue. And there are those who are not managers who might make a useful contribution – philosophers, therapists, mime artists, mystics and the like. They might prompt reflection, introspection, even ascetic wandering or a pilgrimage. In many respects, the more distant the relationship, the more fascinating the perspective – like one of my favourites, the musings of a Hindu priest on why what you can’t measure is interesting.
But if you’re not one of these, none of the above resonates with you, and you’re about to take a random pot shot at “management”, it may be better to write about something else. Your talents are truly wasted.