12 April 2010

What Makes a Good Manager?

I feel like I've worked every crappy job under the sun. I've also had every range of management type tell me what to do on a daily basis. Some I liked, some I hated, and others I hated but came to like. So what is it that makes someone a good manger? Speaking from the point of view of an employee that's experienced every style of management under the sun, not what you might think.

The accepted wisdom is that you should look for a manager that fits best with your "work style".

I call bullshit on that human resources high school guidance councillor pablum. Sell that crap to someone else!

Depending on your maturity, level of experience, comfort in your job or field, and pressures of life at home, your work style can change like the seasons. At age 15 you are pretty much consequence free and might be working part-time simply for cash to screw around with. At 25 you are looking to find a great place to plant roots and build your career. At 35 you are building that nestegg, maybe have a kid or three, and a mortgage to pay. At 45, you are looking to keep things simple and hopefully getting ready to wind up your working life with more punched-clocks behind you than ahead. How can anyone have the same work style at all these points in their life, and be happy with a manager that only knows one management style?!

A good manager for you at age 15 is likely a terrible manager for you at age 35! At age 15 you likely need someone looking over your shoulder micro-managing you so you don't stick a limb in a deep-fryer. At age 35, micro-managing is the last thing you want, it will drive you crazy to not have a chance to use your experience and change your position to suit you.

So given that there is no one management style that suits everyone at all points in their working life, what traits can one look for in a manager to judge if that person is a good manager? The key is to evaluate how adaptable that manager is at making you a better employee.

My current position changes every three months. That is the exciting part of working for a young company. It is also what makes some days terrible. As soon as you know what you are doing the job duties change, new relationships are formed, and information that was valuable becomes useless. Procedures that appeared optimized and took many hours of hard work to implement become redundant, automated, or wiped off the map. Since starting at this company I've been in situations where I felt supremely confident, scared my job was being cut, and went through some life changes that don't really allow for the "I'm not scared, I'll find a new job" attitude from back in 2008 before the economic global meltdown.

Through all of this, my manager, and really the entire department I'm part of, changed how they managed me by observing how I came into work, my enthusiasm for tasks, level of initiative, and general demeanour. They changed their style to give me what I needed. If that was a kick in the ass or a pat on the back, they did their best to make me a better employee. This filters down from the owner, through the upper management team, down to me at the bottom of the totem pole.

Don't get me wrong. Every day is certainly NOT a picnic! I'm not in a union, and this same management team lives by the mottos of "Add Value in Everything You Do", and "Job Security Comes From Doing a Good Job". I've seen VPs let go because the position changed, the company took another direction, and their services were no longer needed. I might already be out the door and just be too dumb to notice.

So, to me a good manager is one that helps the employee become a better employee, no matter what type of work-style that employee happens to have today! If the company lets you go, they should at least have given you something that you can take to another firm in exchange for the work you did while in their employment. No matter the job, the pattern of work is rarely 25 years of service, a gold watch, and a handshake. That is last century thinking. The majority of people will change CAREERS 4 or 5 times in their lives! That means starting over a few times from the bottom. That means growing in several positions to quickly and efficiently move up and earn a similar level of pay amongst all these positions to combat the pressures and duties of life at all its stages. That means you can be 35, but easily feel like you are 15 when starting a new position.

Good management gives you the chance to quickly become confident in your abilities, to see work as an opportunity to grow and enhance your life; not a death sentence where you perversely wind up paying for your paycheque with your life.


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