Going to manager school
Skills are not only required from learners but also from teachers
[Traduzione a cura di Allen Montrasio di John Peter Sloan_La Scuola]
Really skilled management trainers are few, in my personal experience. One of the reasons is that what we demand of managers, particularly in senior positions is extremely tough: they need to possess financial, governance, marketing, sales, IT, technology, logistics, HR, legal skills. They need to think strategically, to be persuasive, to be strong negotiators, to be effective(1) writers-listeners-speakers; they need to take responsibility and show the qualities of true leadership: vision, passion, intuition, grit, commitment, courage, sensitivity, charisma, ethics, humility.
We also ask managers to be our custodians and counsellors, to take care of our needs. But let’s get to the point: it is possible to teach and learn management. Knowing and understanding the principles and tools of management is an achievable(2) didactic goal, and a useful one, too.
Applying principles and tools in the field, self-governing and managing others – however – is a different pair of shoes(3). In this case, I believe the sports learning model(4) is better applied. Just as knowing the bio-mechanics of skiing doesn’t mean we are actually able to ski, so knowing the principles of management is no guarantee that we are able to apply them. The key difference is the divide between declaratory skills (understanding and arguing) and procedural skills (applying with awareness in a systematic way, according to the situation).
The behaviour of a manager has little to do with algorithms and a lot to do with intuition and sensitivity: it is linked to contingency and conditioned by emotion, it requires the ability to place things into context and a high level of self-awareness. It is in fact imitation, habit, adherence to personal values; it is structured over time and is constantly changing.
Managers have to deal with all kinds of tension and problems, they engage with extremely diverse(5) mentalities, they process a huge amount of information in order to understand and make decisions. Managers perform many tasks directly, constantly redressing(6) priorities, they delegate and lead others to achieve goals, they deal with physical and emotional stress, they display intuition and the ability to synthesise even in complex situations.
In my opinion, a managerial role is mainly founded on solid personal ability and experience, and is only backed up(7) by concepts, methods and techniques, such as:
- The ability to quickly analyse and synthesise concepts, identifying the key elements of situations
- The ability to concentrate
- The ability to develop concepts and expand them into systems
- Reading, writing and memorising quickly and accurately
- The ability to set priorities without confusing urgency with importance and giving way to anxiety or anger
- Psychological and physical resilience
- The ability to communicate effectively
- Being a point of reference, inspiring trust, confidence and energy
- Displaying moral virtues such as integrity, loyalty, determination and courage.
These are obviously not (just) skills and knowledge that can be transferred. There are complex variables to consider, linked to the nature and culture of the subject, their(8) family background, age, gender and character. Inevitably, positive and negative emotions, values and energy come into play, as well as limits and a person’s history and life project.
An expert manager makes many thought connections, cause-effect links and diagnoses. They(8) are good at assessing situations because they can fall back on a rich inventory of knowledge and have the ability to access it quickly and make logical connections, both drawing(9) from context and influencing its analysis.
The key to making good management decisions is a careful and critical analysis of reality and direct contact with its key players; the approach is therefore less systematic than one might imagine and cannot be effectively managed by applying techniques and pre-determined formulae. The learning curve(10) is best tackled by being seconded by an expert tutor over a set amount of time. The steps may be the following:
- I do, you observe (the teacher-manager works, explains, asks questions, the learner-manager observes and asks questions)
- Let’s do it together (teacher and learner work together, interacting to understand and clarify)
- You do, I observe (the learner works, the teacher observes, asks questions, corrects)
- Do it yourself (the learner works independently and asks for support only when necessary).
Key to success is that the learning path is well structured and that the “teacher-manager” is teaching oriented, in that they genuinely mean to share their skills and are able to transfer knowledge. It’s important to set up a true tutoring project with defined steps: managers are by definition busy and travel extensively, so their availability is not a given.
In conclusion, it isn’t true that anyone, with the right training and will, can do any job well, least of all a managerial job. Skill sets can neither be overlooked nor acquired. An anxious introvert will hardly become a histrionic daredevil. An analytic intellectual will rarely be transformed in an action-oriented go-getter. Results can be achieved, but they will cost effort, inefficiency and may not be consistent in time.