It feels to me like half of the people that I know (not a big number I hear you say!) have had their birthdays in the last few weeks. Is it random that as somebody who sits on the cusp of Cancer and Leo and whose father is in fact also a Libra has befriended and works with such, in astrological terms (not mine), balanced people? I think that if we are more honest than we like to admit we all like to read our stars. We have an inbuilt morbid curiosity which inclines us towards glancing at our next 24 hours, the next week, the next month or even year dependent on whatever tabloid version of Mystic Meg we are confronted with.  Having said that, I do have a personal struggle with a zodiacal system comprised of twelve houses that on the law of averages implies that one twelfth of the population has the same fortune. As an old Christian Brother used to quip to us in class many years ago: “I can tell ye ye’r future lads; ye’ll all pass water before morning!” I hasten to add that with that same teacher a few lads were passing water before the end of the class! Anyway I digress.

So let’s think about this for a moment. I sit on the cusp of Cancer and Leo and move between the two houses, mostly according to whatever fine and intellectual newspaper that I am reading. That’s odd in and of itself; I mean one paper has me nicely boxed off as a Leonine leader, all powerful and strong and the other as a moody Cancerian, all introvert and reflective.  From an empirical investigation of whichever newspaper I buy, or more likely as not happen upon I appear to be mostly a Cancerian, with a handsome dollop of old Leo flung in for occasional good measure. In summary I am a July baby…and if brutally honest…the papers have it right! This in turn begs the question as to what sort of manager I am.

I have been involved in management for more years than I care to remember or count. That management experience covers a spectrum which includes managing hundreds of staff in the retail sector, to leading and managing various university academic departments, to overseeing complex project teams, to leading and managing football teams of various ages, to my current job managing and leading a busy and progressive business school in the heart of Dublin. There is no doubt that experience and age (not the same thing!!) have impacted upon and fashioned me into the manager that I am today. I am under no illusion that the journey is at an end and accept fully that the journey continues and the learning continues so long as I remain open to those possibilities.

When I started out on my career as a trainee retail manager an old seasoned and hardened campaigner in the company I worked for called me aside and suggested that I learn the first lesson of good management and that is that management is not a popularity contest. Experience has taught me that for a large part of the time it is certainly not that. Equally I have also come to realise that it should be more about being fair and consistent and that I need to remind myself of that on a daily basis. Still though, decisions have to be made; tasks need to be set and there needs to be consequences for unreasonable compliance to a reasonable schedule for task completion.

I have also found that the old hackneyed maxim of ‘different strokes for different folks’ has served me well. Some people need cajoling and stroking and others require pushing and firmness of manner. You just need to figure out what makes various individuals tick. Of course we have the immovable stones and one can only hope that the overall momentum of change and good practice will wash them away. You know what I mean-the old stuck-in-the-mud curmudgeon who hides in his or her trumpeting of the way that it was always done since he was a boy or she was a girl or since Methuselah was a baby…

Football management is different of course and experience has taught me that there is no merit in being critical of performance on the field play. Most committed athletes will know when they have underperformed. Most teams will know when they have underperformed or have been outplayed. There is no performance advantage that will accrue in terms of a critical slating in a sporting context. In that context it is all about performance improvement and analysing and understanding what went wrong individually and collectively and advising on strategies for performance improvement. You know, as I write that I wonder why I don’t use that approach in all management contexts. Then I stop and think a little and I quickly realise that industry or education are not sports (apart from the oft discussed and fabled blood sport popularised by incompetent management) and whilst losing a game might mean losing a league or being sent packing from a championship, underperformance in the workplace causes loss of profits, the dampening of motivation, the killing off of stamina and commitment, all of which culminate in diminishing returns for everyone, disillusioned customers and regrettably and increasingly the loss of jobs. That’s where I firmly believe that the similarities in the two management contexts end.

The other challenge of management is what I refer to as the loneliness of the long distance runner. Managing and leading is all too often a lonely old station. Trust me…it is all of that. On the other hand I take great comfort that I personally know a very successful football manager who fosters a culture of managerial loneliness so that he can make tough decisions on matters such as team selection at one step removed from the players. He opines that good management and good leadership require buffer zones in the sporting environment which ironically is a context that all too often epitomises team work and esprit de corp to the unknowing supporter. Now that is something that those of us involved in academic management could actually learn from sport.

In an overall sense what I am trying to say is that maybe we need to be able to adopt different persona and need to constantly reinvent those persona if we are to stay at the vanguard of successful management practice. I would argue that the success of management practice is not so much rooted in an understanding of theory y and theory x or in understanding the functional roles of management for example as in the way we relate to the people that comprise and make up our entire team. Such relations will require balance, some will even require exceptional leadership and courage and conviction in decisions and some will require a manager to be withdrawn and reflective. Maybe just maybe there is a zodiacal school of thought on effective management. Maybe just maybe we should burn the Kotter and Mintzberg collection and get stuck into the new theories of MMM (Mystic Meg Management). Facetiousness aside there is something to be said for proactively cultivating an array of management styles. My stars tell me that I have an entire universe to travel before I even come close. May the journey never end and the learning never cease..

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