To have a manager and ‘to be managed’ are not the same things. To have a manager means having a coach, a leader and a guide. It implies collaboration with a colleague, achieving alignment around the things that matter most to the organisation and ensuring combined focus and energy are placed on key organisational imperatives. It suggests openness to new ideas (not always agreement) and mutual feedback. It demands trustworthiness from both parties and transparent and honest communication in the context of mutual respect. This kind of reciprocal leadership recognises the giftedness in each other and capitalises on the same. I say “reciprocal leadership’ as there is an expectation that a trustworthy employee can provide leadership insight and direction ‘upwards’ to the manager. To have a manager fundamentally means that you have someone you respect leading you, someone providing an environment where you can flourish and express all of your best in the most professional way.

‘To be managed’ unfortunately could imply manipulative control – just do what I tell you to do – and brings words like ‘disempowerment’ and ‘oppression’ (in extreme cases) to mind. ‘Being managed’ doesn’t necessarily open the door to autonomy and self-direction. It tends, rather, to enforce standardised responses and shuts out any possibility of individual expression and creativity. Growth opportunities, in such contexts, are often limited. There will probably be no sense of ownership and employees will leave all responsibility-taking to managers. They will turn up at work, but leave their creativity and energy at home.

People should not be managed, but led. Managers are first and foremost ‘leaders’ – providing inspiration, direction, encouragement, feedback, vision, coaching, an understanding of the business context and relevant performance information (how well are we doing in relation to business expectations?). The things that managers should be managing are as follows:

  • The flow of relevant information interdepartmentally – to avoid the development of silos, internal competition and selfish attitudes. Leaders need to share ‘big picture’ information constantly to encourage collaboration and team work.
  • Obstacles that mitigate achieving performance excellence – managers have the power to remove blocks (unnecessary bureaucracy, red tape and superfluous paperwork and reports) that stand in the way of realising optimal performance.
  • Workflow and workload – ensuring a balance of responsibility and amount of work for all employees. Fairness is critical for the development of trust.
  • Performance and targets – getting the results that the business expects to get. Install real-time indicators to assist employees with managing their own respective areas of responsibility.
  • Production/productivity efficiencies – maintenance and other relevant scheduling, waste, hygiene, safety, systems, processes, reporting, etc.

Managers, as leaders, are force-multipliers of commitment, not enforcers of rules and regulations. All managers should focus on leading people and managing systems and processes. As such, they will create environments that result in empowerment, engagement, performance and wellness.