Bad managers tell employees what to do, good managers explain why they need to do it, but great managers involve people in decision making and improvement."
There might be more to management to that, but I
think that's a pretty good start. "Lean management," or the Toyota
management system, encourages leaders to live in that "good to great"
range (with apologies to Jim Collins).
Bad managers bark orders.
They are directive and tell employees what to do, without any
explanation or context. I saw a lot of that style of management quite
often during my first two years at General Motors (read my previous post
about that experience) and the workplace was incredibly dysfunctional,
as a result.
There are top-down, "command and control" managers
in every type of workplace, unfortunately. Managers who are controlling
and have all the answers want their employees to "check their brains at
the door," and often say so quite explicitly — or they spread that
message in more subtle ways.
At GM, front-line employees
complained that they were "hired for their backs and their arms, not
their brains." In hospitals, healthcare professionals (even those with
master's degrees) have complained, "They just want us to do what we're
told." This is not a recipe for quality, productivity, or good customer
A friend of mine lives in a high-rise condo building.
One example of "telling" was the general manager telling employees that
the doors to the resident gym must now be kept closed at all times. For
years, previously, the doors had been left open unless a resident wanted
privacy and chose to close them.
My friend asked one of the
employees, "Why are the doors closed all of the time now?" The employee
replied, "I don't know, [the manager] just told us to."
disrespectful to just give directives without letting people understand
the reason(s) why. There might have very well been a good reason why the
doors were now to be kept closed. Had the manager taken just a few
minutes to share a reason why, the employees would feel better about
themselves and would more likely keep the doors closed. If employees are
following directives out of a fear of being "written up," they aren't
in a position to provide great service.
A good condo manager
would explain why the doors now need to be closed. And, if there wasn't a
good reason why, they wouldn't force the change on a whim.
great condo manager would involve the employees in coming up with
solutions to whatever problem is being solved by keeping the doors
closed. The employees, when being posed with the problem, might come up
with the idea of "close the doors" or they might come up with something
better. Either way, they would feel a greater sense of ownership over
the idea since they were involved in its creation.
During my time
at GM, the better of the two plant managers I worked for taught us that
Lean leaders (in the style of Toyota leaders) will always explain why
something must be done, in those rare instances when they have to give a
directive. The dynamic changes from "thou shalt wear safety gloves
(because I'm the boss and I told you so)" to "you must wear safety
gloves (because it's necessary for your safety and we don't want you to
get hurt, even though you might think there is little risk)."
Bad managers tell. Good managers explain why.
Great managers go beyond this.
managers might engage the employees in figuring out how to reduce the
safety risk that makes gloves necessary in the first place. Maybe an
employee would suggest that a different, but equally effective, chemical
be used. We don't know unless we engage our employees.
In 90% of
workplace situations, I'd guess, the manager shouldn't be telling
people what to do, even if they are making the effort to explain why.
Great managers engage people in designing their work and they continue
to engage them in ongoing improvement. As I learned from former Toyota
employees and the books of Taiichi Ohno, work procedures "should not be
forced down from above but rather set by the production workers
This mindset and approach requires that leaders set
aside their egos and century-old habits. of top-down management.
Managers won't have all of the answers. Instead of dictating how things
get done (and expecting obedience and compliance), managers need to work
together with employees to define how the work is done. Managers need
to ask employees what ideas they have for improving the workplace,
through the practice of "Kaizen."
Our employees are adults and
they deserve our respect. They deserve great leaders who can work
together to help everybody succeed and do what's best for their
customers (or residents).