Above All Else, a Manager Has to Have Heart


Management is about people, because people make it happen.

It is not enough for a manager to plan, organize, direct and control. It is not enough to conceive and implement a program. It is not enough to merely say, "People are our most important asset."

Do you want the key to management success? It's not about technique. It's not about expertise, or even about skills. It is about having heart. It's passionately caring about what we do, which, for a manager, means really caring about employees.

Having heart is taking the time to understand the unique differences, aspirations and needs of our employees. And then, whenever possible, seeking opportunities that recognize this uniqueness in the assignments, flexibility and communications in our connections with our employees.

Yet having heart does not mean that we just do what our employees want. Having heart is not a reason to avoid a difficult discussion with an employee. And it certainly does not mean that a manager must be a personal counselor.

Having heart means treating our employees the way we would like to be treated. It is eliminating the feeling of boss from our work environment. It is about treating our employees as people, not as machines.

Clearly, these are demanding times for managers. The lowest unemployment rate in decades has made employee retention and recruitment an even larger challenge. And with increasingly demanding goals and the continual push for faster and more productive effort, many managers feel overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time.

Without heart, the vital personal connection between manager and employee can be lost. Managers can view the day-to-day interactions with employees as interruptions, rather than opportunities for meaningful work.

A "tube sock" approach to management can emerge, in which managers may mistakenly believe that one approach fits all. Managers may depersonalize such difficult decisions as budget cuts and downsizing and view employees as a faceless head count rather than as people.

Managers can also fall into the trap of believing that techniques, processes and skills are the only necessary ingredients for effective management. Thus, they miss the real key to good management: caring how these management tools are applied to each employee.

Managers spend time planning and implementing, controlling and directing, and learning new organizing strategies. Yet often, too little time is spent on understanding employees as people with a variety of interests, aspirations and needs.

By deepening relationships, managers gain an understanding of their employees that leads to insightful "win-win" solutions for fundamental management concerns such as productivity, commitment and employee turnover.

How might organizational "heart disease" be diagnosed? Here are several indications.

Have you seen new initiatives developed that might take into account head count, productivity levels and costs--but do not take into account how employees at the operations and first-line supervision levels might react to them or how they might need to think, work and communicate differently?

Have you heard new company goals announced, but--even after a general meeting with your manager--did not have a clue what you should do differently on a day-to-day basis other than to work harder?

Have you seen banners, posters or slogans proclaiming the importance of employees, yet the typical day-to-day interactions between managers and employees seem to suggest something different?

These might be indications of "heart disease" and an opportunity to better achieve the organization's goals and initiatives by demonstrating that managers really care about their people.

When employees know someone is genuinely interested in them and cares about them as people, they cannot help but be touched and care about that person in return. Relationships become richer. Employees and managers can better understand each other and want to help each other.

Managers have the context to view performance and behaviors. They must develop more understanding and patience, particularly when those inevitable misunderstandings or mistakes occur.

Having heart--passionately caring--is not a slogan or an initiative that should be viewed as another "flavor of the month" campaign. It is a core value that everyone--organization, manager and employee--must embed in their bones if they want their successes to be more meaningful.

Our work lives will be richer. Fulfillment of potential will be deeper.

Let us have heart and not rely upon technique. Employees are people, not machines. Let us care deeply and passionately, not only about what we do but also about how we work together. Let us remember: People really do make it happen.

Gary Izumo is a professor in the Moorpark College Business Department and has managed his own consulting practice. Izumo is a former McKinsey & Company consultant and Practice Leader for the Strategic Management Consulting Practice of Price Waterhouse.

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