4.30.2008

Labor pains

Business advice has become a kabillion-dollar industry with everyone, it seems, in search of the magical secret to management.

When I see folks gobbling up this advice on how to be a better manager or a better employee -- how to succeed in the corporate world -- I always think: Don't you people have children at home?

Most everything you need to know about management, you can learn from the parent-child relationship.

This is not to say that an employee who doesn't get his way should throw a tantrum and hold his breath until he turns blue. (I've tried it, and it doesn't work.) I'm also not advocating paternalistic bosses who micromanage everything, including what their employees wear and whether they clean their plates.

But when it comes to basic management relations -- where one person is in charge and the other must obey or face the consequences -- parents and children have much to teach us about how to get along in the world.

Most of us want from our bosses the same things children want from their parents: Appreciate our gifts and forgive us our foibles. Show us that you care.

Most bosses want employees who'll get the job done in a creative, responsible way without being unreasonably annoying in the process.

When a parent is standing over a kid, forcing him to clean his room, the parent experiences the same emotions that managers feel every day: impatience, bewilderment, exasperation and, finally, the overwhelming sensation best-described as "it would be faster if I'd just do it myself."

The child is being a regular employee, full of resentment over the parent's misplaced priorities and rebellion over wasted time that could be spent more productively, in ways such as "playing" and "setting fire to the dog."

Here are some things that managers can learn from parents:

--Nurture is important, but you can't always overcome nature. Some employees are emotionally immature and will "act out" and there's nothing you can do about it, short of putting them up for adoption.

--Many employees flourish in an atmosphere of "benign neglect." Leave them alone and they'll produce. Stand over them and bark demands, and they'll simply wait until your back is turned, then take a nap.

--Lying will come back and bite you in the butt.

--There are no secrets. You might think you can keep things from your employees, but they (like children) know what's really going on.

--Nobody likes to hear, "I told you so."

--Employees, like your kids, will pick up your own bad habits, so be careful what you do.

--People don't clean up after themselves unless threatened.

--No matter how much you give your underlings, it's never enough.

--"Because I said so" almost never ends the argument.

Here's what employees can learn from children:

--Your boss is not as dumb as you think.

--"We'll see" almost always means "no."

--No matter how well you perform, it's never enough.

--You can only push a boss so far. You should learn the body language and facial expressions that indicate your manager is about to "blow her stack." Choose that time to go play quietly in your cubicle.

--Lying will come back and bite you in the butt.

--Don't buy into the corporate mythology. Sometimes, you must face the realities of the situation. You can believe in the tooth fairy all you like, but don't expect her to provide your health insurance.

--You can always quit your job -- the equivalent to "running away from home" -- but make sure you've got a place to run to first. It's a cold, harsh world out there, and it's best to keep a roof over your head.

--Always wait until your manager's back is turned before making faces at him.

--No one ever got ahead by saying, "You can't make me."

So, whether you're a boss or a worker bee, remember, as you go into dicey management interactions, that parents and children survive such situations all the time. If that doesn't help, you can always hold your breath until you turn blue.

1 comment:

Clair Dickson said...

Another good post.

I'll also add that some of the best managers I had never TOLD anyone to do anything. They ASKED, as if doing the task for doing it FOR this manager, to help him/ her out. And people always agreed to help. I think part because they never felt forced. In part because these managers did other things to make for a respectful relationship.

Because I'm the boss/mom/dad, That's why, is also not a good line to use...