Management Wisdom

The recent issue (2.08) of the German magazine “Business Technology” has an interview with management consulting luminary Reinhard K. Sprenger (quite famous for his book “Mythos Motivation”).

I am not sure if I buy all his theories about management mentioned in the interview (though it would be interesting to see some evidence for them, I should look in his books for this I guess), however a couple of his statements actually made me think and quite intuitively they make sense (again, some evidence would be good to support this).

Teamwork and cooperation need a problem

The first refreshing thing I read was that he actually said problem instead of challenge. The point here is that teamwork and cooperation these days is often pushed per se without having a common problem to work on. This often fails when there is no clearly defined problem to work on or to state it otherwise a common goal to work towards.

So as a prerequisite to initiate teamwork we would need a common understanding of the problem as well as the goal for the combined effort. This should be explicitly defined by and for all participants or (to stress another buzzword) stakeholders.

In addition to that I see the need to clearly understanding the interests of all people involved. I see it actually quite often that objectives (including and in particular those that are bound to a bonus or commission (say money)) are quite contradictory to effective teamwork. Many times these drivers (or agendas) needs to be adjusted by management to facilitate (or enable) team work.

Decisions are only interesting if the situation is undecidable

Decisions are only needed if there is a situation at hand where there is no obvious answer – meaning there are as many good reasons to turn left as there are good reasons to turn right (otherwise if there would be a bias for either one, no decision would be needed).

This actually happens quite often and managers need to decide based on improper or insufficient information.

Sprenger says that a good manager should feel at home within this situation and should be able to come to a good decision due to his ability of creating a good contextual model to support the decision – particularly without all the details. Sprenger says that ability stems from a good (humanistic) education – I often call it “common sense” (“gesunder Menschenverstand” in German).

I – by the way – think that this ability does not only make a good manager but also a good employee, a good consultant etc.

Risk averseness kills innovation

If an organisation gets risk averse, if nobody is willing (or able) to make mistakes and take risks, innovation is dead. And so in creativity and speed. If people just start to do something if they are 100% sure they will not make a mistake, barely anybody is moving at all or just doing the true and tried standard work.

It is up to the management to create an infrastructure and environment were mistakes and failures are accepted (as long as we learn from them).

Can one learn Management and Leadership?

Esther Derby has a blog entry about natural born leaders and managers vs. learning the skills (she also has a link to a nice little article called “Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?“).

I agree with Esther that you can learn the skills of both management and leadership. However before learning comes awareness and openness. Some managers I came across so far haven’t had either.

If you are not aware of the lack of (at least some) of the skills, you have no chance to learn. The same holds true if your are not open to the different aspects involved in becoming a great leader and an effective manager.

A mindset of “you can always do better” definitely helps to become a better manager and leader. If that is not the case, you have to rely on your current “natural” skill set, whatever that is.