flowing motion

Feeling shy as a junior manager? Or got a clumsy boss . . .

Posted on: October 20, 2009

The embarrassment of supervision

I’ve just had a meeting with someone who had to evaluate my work, even though he is much less experienced than I am and was dazzled by my qualifications. He had the grace to apologise and did so with considerable charm and ease.

I might add that he holds important community positions outside work. In the course of the meeting I learned that he chairs his football club. There was no hubris about this either.  A mature man.  Did I say that he was younger than me too?

The rareness of big people

It is rare to find people who are comfortable overseeing others. Do you remember you first supervisory position? Do you remember how awkward you felt? In my first few weeks as a prefect at school, I actually practised some stern eye contact in the mirror.

It was such a nonsense, of course. This man’s genius was to acknowledge the awkward ‘social’ situation. Then he was able to walk through the evaluation criteria, some of which were manifestly laughable. But the job got done and in the process he earned my respect and importantly, though no one will thank him for it, he earned my loyalty to his organization.

Why don’t we train managers better?

It really is important to train managers before exposing them to scrutiny of their subordinates. Yet, it seems few firms do and managers wallow in their own insecurity.

Minimally, future managers need to role play likely scenarios. It is a bit like driving a new route. When you’ve driven it once or twice, you don’t have to think about directions. You can concentrate on the other traffic on the road. Then managers need training in giving instructions.

What the army teaches young lieutenants

A young infantry lieutenant is taught two things. First, how to plan the movement of troops through enemy territory. Second, how to prepare troops to move.

Taking the second, first, because it is shorter. While the lieutenant is preparing the order, they alert their subordinates that an order is coming “prepare to move out”.  This saves time when they have to get going, and gives the soldiers some feeling of control over their own lives.

The order itself is based primarily on whether they expect to be “in contact” with the enemy or not. The categories of situations would be different in other industries but a similar idea would apply.  What are the major situations that the team deals with?

Then lieutenants decide how to move their three sections, each headed up by a sergeant, in a leap frog fashion, one on high ground covering another that is moving to take another advantageous position.

When the lieutenant gives the order three more rules apply: First, show people the positions they must take. They should be able to see the positions. Second, give the whole order at once with everyone listening so they understand how their work fits into the whole. Third, take questions.

Always take questions.  The last points is so important and relates to the point I began with. Sergeants are normally much more experienced soldiers and leaders than lieutenants. As the King Abdulla of Jordan said when he addressed the House of Lords: he learned three things at Sandhurst: Listen to your sergeants. Listen to your sergeants. Listen to your sergeants.

Starting out as a manager

If you are starting out as a manager and are feeling self-conscious, put aside your awkwardness.  This isn’t about you.

Think of the task that needs doing by the whole team.  Begin with thinking about the conditions they will encounter (will they meet the enemy), look at who you have in your team, set targets for the whole team to move through the space and while about 1/3 of the team is under pressure, have the other 2/3 cover them.  Get everyone to the other side safely.

  1. Give people advance warning that a change is coming.  Get them together when you are ready and tell them the job.
  2. Where do you want to move to, when and why?
    1. What is happening – where is the enemy, what are the weather conditions, etc. (or the equivalent)
    2. How will the job be divided up?  Who will take the group forward and in what order?  How will we cover and support each other?
    3. What arrangements are in place if there is an emergency (the equivalent of air support and medical evacuation)?
  3. Remember to show people what you want. Keep it concrete.
  4. Ask for questions.

If you have followed this, I bet you no longer feel self-conscious and shy?

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