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Management Job candidates may size up a company’ s managers, as well as company itself

Should you be selling the quality of your managers, not your company or its mission, to job candidates?

Gallup says so. Given that 50 per cent of employees who quit do so because of their manager, according to its research, organizations should improve their managers and then make them a selling feature to potential recruits. “It’s the manager, stupid," says trainer Dan Rockwell, echoing Bill Clinton’s slogan about the economy.

But there’s a catch. Your managers are flawed. Every one of them, including you, according to McGill University management professor Henry Mintzberg. “Successful leaders are flawed – everyone is flawed – but their particular flaws are not fatal under the circumstances,” he writes in his just-released book of short blog-length essays, Bedtime Stories for Managers. “Reasonable human beings find ways to live with one another’s reasonable flaws.”

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We are all flawed, a truism we aren’t eager to admit. Perhaps those managers who drive away staff had unreasonable flaws or reasonable flaws not suited to the circumstances. But perhaps their staff were not reasonable and couldn’t find ways to live with those flaws. If you’re currently at wit’s end over your boss, ponder those possibilities.

At the core of daily work, are we just struggling to live with each other’s reasonable flaws? Prof. Mintzberg says with tongue trenchantly in cheek that “there are really only two ways to know a person’s flaws: Marry them or work for them.” Gallup’s finding about divorce at work may not be that different from divorce on the home front. For some, divorce even happens more than once – in either sphere. But for some it doesn’t happen because they learn to live with each other’s flaws.

Gallup says we suffer emotionally and physically because of bad managers. But Prof. Mintzberg offers us a leavening viewpoint: Get a grip. People are flawed, your boss and yourself. A Chinese proverb says: “He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.”

Gallup’s solution is to be careful in selecting managers since only one in 10 people have the right qualities. It lists five qualities, including motivating, building trust and making decisions based on productivity not politics. But Prof. Mintzberg, who has collected a legion of such utopian frameworks, says most of the lists are fatally flawed. People can have those qualities and still mess up, he notes, reminding us that although courageous decision-making is often cited as a valuable trait George W. Bush’s fearless decision to invade Iraq didn’t work out so hot.

In selecting managers, he says the problem is the people doing the choosing have never been married to the candidates or never worked for them. “People who select managers have to hear from the people who know the candidates best. Now, they can’t exactly ask the candidates’ spouses because the current ones will be biased and the former ones will be more biased. But they can certainly get the opinions of the people who have been managed by these candidates,” he says. Sometimes, they do. But more often, they don’t.

There have been debates on whether organizations and individuals should concentrate on accentuating the strengths of employees or correcting their weaknesses. If we view weaknesses as flaws, reasonable or unreasonable, that may be the best starting point for your own career growth. Your unreasonable flaws need to be identified and modified, through personal improvement and discipline, and leadership development offerings or coaching. You don’t want a reputation as a manager people leave. And while your strengths, if truly admirable and of benefit to employees, can help compensate for your reasonable flaws your unreasonable flaws may overshadow those assets.

As for your reasonable flaws, acknowledge them. Consultant Peter Bregman argues vulnerability is a strength for leaders. “Will anyone ever be able to truly connect with you, really trust you, honestly give you their all, if you only reveal to them the parts of you that you think will impress them? How long do you think you can keep that up? How long before they become disillusioned?” he wrote recently in Harvard Business Review.

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He adds: “I am not superhuman. Nor are you. And that’s not only OK, it’s better.” We are flawed, working with other flawed people, and have to make our best of that situation rather than further stoke our anger by rushing to share the latest supposed outrage. That’s not simple or easy, but it’s daily reality.

Cannonballs

  • Executive assistants are often called office spouses. And new research, as you might expect, shows they know their boss’s flaws. A study of 200 executive assistants across 22 countries found 32 per cent saw bosses wasting or abusing resources, 14 per cent engaging in conflicts of interest, and 13 per cent mishandling confidential information. Nine per cent dealt with sexually inappropriate behaviour, most often by colleagues but also their bosses.
  • People say they cannot find time to do things but they always can find time to fix things when they break, consultants Neil Smith and Patricia O’Connell note in How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things. Create a sense of urgency before a problem festers.
  • The best time to nudge your team to do something would seem to be Tuesday morning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.,  according to a poll by consultant Kevin Kruse of his newsletter readers.

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