Management 2016 or Navel Gazing in the Age of the Internet

I have been thinking a lot lately about Leadership, Management and Identity. It seems in the new world, this one born of the internet, smartphones, investor returns and social media that our world has changed.  As I started my career, the way to success was through management.  It didn’t matter if you were technical or support staff.   Increased pay, growing responsibility and interesting work followed through the management path.  And naturally, so did I.

I had 6 months of management training before being allowed to supervise or manage anyone.  Then, out of the blue I was managing 8 developers, all 10-15 years older than myself.  They weren’t happy about it and I had to prove myself.  It took time, but I did.  As a manager your job is to remove obstacles, allowing others to achieve, while making sure that their work is aligned with the goals and objectives of the company.  Piece of cake, right?  Not in the least.   But that was the past and bluntly, the past seems to matter less each day.

There has been a shift, one as big as the rise of man in the ranks of the predators.  Gone are the dinosaurs, the professional managers.  Management skills have been devalued for hands on technical skills.  I have interviewed for positions over the years where my skills were needed, but the focus of the manager (or director or VP) was to be hands on.  80% of their view of management was to configure the infrastructure or write code.  The staff’s well-being, professional growth, and productivity was sacrificed for more staff, more line labor and ultimately results that missed the mark.

As I’ve transitioned from a managerial leadership role to a place in the temporary labor force, I see managerial skills lacking all round me.  I have worked for managers that could not manage, let alone evaluate staff.  Hiring the wrong person is worse than not filling an open position.  The damage can be anywhere for bad to nuclear.  I’ve made that mistake and watched others decimate their teams with decisions that were far worse than simply “bad”.  Of course we all make bad decisions.  How we and fix them is what separates good leaders and managers from placeholders.

I’ve worked in environments where leadership was clearly lacking.  Managers and executives had limited interaction with their staffs failing to ensure strategic visions were communicated, actions were aligned and results we achieved.  In general, people want to do good things, they want to contribute and they want to achieve.  If they didn’t need help, the role of manager would have never been created.  People never really finish growing.  You thought you knew everything once you finished High School or College? Nope.  There is always more to learn, there is always improvement just beyond your grasp.  Providing the help you need to get there is what good managers do.  Leaders instill the vision; managers translate that vision to actions while growing a company’s most precious resource – its employees.

I’ve seen managers refer to their staff as cattle, to their face repeatedly.  I’m pretty sure that was not a compliment and did not instill loyalty.  But then the manager didn’t care, it was clear he saw people as a commodity to be replaced as needed.  While it is rare to hear this, I don’t think that is the majority view.  But as managerial skills are devalued and eroding, the attitudes become more prevalent.  People become devalued as generic tools, and the results are larger than the bean counters care to notice.

Since I am not a manager, and I do not have the authority or license to really lead, who am I?  In today’s world, our identity has shifted.  We have our identity at home, which differs from our online identity, which is clearly different from our work identity.  And some of have even more.  There was a point in time when I was a husband, father, leader and teacher.  The world was simpler and those all rolled into one nice neat package.  Today, it is less clear.

You are reading this on a screen.  It is not part of an oral history.  It most definitely is not work related.  No, this is part of your social or self-educational experience.  If I can help you I’m glad.  But this is far different from my other social media identities.  In each setting, various elements are set up to provide opportunities for people to show their personalities and interests.  While I’m not a troll, I’m most definitely not a taste maker.  Well, unless you want to come for dinner and peruse the wine cellar.

The change in the employment environment changes everything.  My core identity was once that of a leader and problem solver that contributed as much directly as indirectly.  I worked hard to help the people around me grow. Now I am a wrench, to be used on very specific tasks as needed.  Leadership, as I’m defining it, is not part of the workload and it most definitely would not be lauded if it emerged.

I wonder if that impacts how others perceive me.  Am I less than I was? Do those closest to me see me as less?  Has my gravitas given way to grey hair and the ultimate devaluation of my skills?  I pretend I’m not less, but professional fulfillment has been replaced by the practicality of paying the mortgage.  I sit and ponder my identity and my place in this world far too often these days.  Changes happen when you least expect them and deliver new pressures and influences to our perspectives and actions.  I think in this new world of ours, we probably need to spend more time connecting with our inner selves and with others.

Years ago, I worked for an executive that I had a love/hate relationship with.  She was a bit nutty and a hugger.  I am picky on who I hug.  If I hug you, it says a lot.  If I don’t, no need to be offended.  She taught me a lot – mostly on what not to do.  But, I always remembered that she was the one that told me “high tech means high touch”.  The innovations in this world are meant to help us, not separate us.  As we move further apart, we need to have the time and skills to really interact, really make a difference and not just hope that last short email changed someone’s mind.

So while I’m not who I was, I am still me.  I strive to make a difference. I work to help others and when no one is looking, I try to lead.  I try to set the appropriate example.  I believe I can still make a difference.  But sometimes, in my own private corner, I wonder if I’m fooling myself.  In some ways, I’ve always been naïve.

 

 

 

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