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28 September 2013

Devil's Guide to Management #2: Pieces of Advice to New and Young Managers

Based on experience and not on theories

Back in early 2010, weeks before I ended my tenure as a manager, I gave two of my successors a short list of unsolicited advice.  I did not have enough time back then to give them an extensive education and I have always believed that experience is the best teacher. Fast forward, three years later, I saw the list again and I was surprised. I have completely forgotten that I wrote such a list. I realized that I could revise it and add a few more details. I hope that this new revised tips will be useful to future young managers.  There are 21 tips, which is appropriate because we officially become adults at age 21. This is part of my “Devil’s Guide to Management” Series.  

There is a time for you to listen to the ideas and opinions of others but there is also a time when you should stop listening and do what you think is appropriate because you have access to information others do not have.  Get as much information as possible before making a decision. Never make a decision out of a whim. Learn to distinguish between office noise and the legitimate concerns. Once you have all the valid information, decide.

Do not work to be popular and admired. Work to be effective and fair. Popularity and respect will come later but never solicit respect. Respect is given freely and all leaders have to earn it. Certainly, this also includes the classic phrase “lead by example.”

You will always have detractors. If you do not have any, maybe you are not doing enough. Moreover, distinguish legitimate opposition from employees who have personal issues and they just use the work place as a venue to air out personal issues. These people sometimes divert their personal issues on to their co-workers and bosses.  Ignore them, they will eventually self-distruct. Just make sure they do not demoralize others.

Prepare to lose some of your friends, eventually. Even if they say they will never change, they will eventually because this job will change you.  Based on my experience, the change is mostly positive. You learn about human nature not in the theoretical sense but in the real sense: how human nature really manifests itself in the actual work place.  You also discover your limitations. You discover your real self, which is worth more than the money you earn.

Get an ideology and make that the cornerstone of all your plans and actions, even the most insignificant actions. If you believe in social justice, then make all your policies follow your beliefs. If you believe that women are treated unfairly in society, make policies that will ensure equality. 

Do not be afraid of politics. Avoid dirty politics but practice good politics.  Man is a political animal so you cannot avoid politics. Practice diplomacy if needed but be firm if necessary. Choose your words carefully. Sir Thomas Moore (Saint Thomas) once implied that “words would mean what they say” or the wordings of a statement could help us avoid betraying our own faith.

Always spot the poor performers and challenge them. Throw them in the water with minimal help. If they swim, good. They will thank you for it in the future. If they sink, they will learn and if they do not, good riddance. It is difficult to do but you must see the potentials of employees even before they realize they have such capabilities.  “Sink or swim” is also an effective way to weeding out the slackers from the sleeping tigers.

Be careful of prima donnas. They may perform well but they often think the world owe them a lot.  If they are really that excellent, they should have resigned by now and found better jobs. To use a music analogy, nurture choir singers than divas, choir singers can sing harmoniously and even if you choose a soloist, the choir singers and the soloist will compliment each other to make beautiful music. Divas are just singers who can sing loud but the best singers have control of even the softest note.

Always remember that a leader has no control. There is only an illusion of control. Instead of spending your energy trying to control every aspect of your job, set up policies to manage chaos. For more details, go to this link.

In the end, you are still the boss. Eventually, whether your employees like it or not, they have to follow you or quit. As long as you follow the law, you are secured.  Do not confuse government from private companies. Private companies are not democracies. If they are, big corporations will be run by charismatic but clueless C.E.O.s and Apple Inc. will resemble the Philippine government. Who wants that?

The best and most effective policies are always the unpopular ones because most of us want to do the least amount of work. It is human nature.  Jus make sure the policies are just and you implement them consistently. Enough said.

To make the rules more effective, sometimes let them make the rules. Now this advice does not contradict advice #11.  In fact, based on my experience, sometimes, stricter policies come from employees themselves. 

Thus, encourage a culture of self-regulation and give them enough freedom to create things on their own. Letting them go is sometimes a more effective way of motivating them to work better. To paraphrase business guru Dan H. Pink, money is not the number one motivator as many people assume. Money as a motivator only works in menial jobs, like a carrot to a donkey. However, we do not have donkeys as employees. We have people. Dan H. Pink said that studies have shown that autonomy and purpose are what drives people to excel.    
(For a quick reference, watch this video.)

Some rules are only good on paper. From time to time, policies will not work so be ready to go back to the drawing board.  Do not take it personally if some of your policies fail.  We learn from our mistakes. Just have a sense of humor about it. If you hear negative comments about the ineffective policies that you discontinued, just ignore. Transcend. Consider them as office noise. Move on and your employees will move on too.

Self-destructing employees are people who will sabotage their own career. They often complain about rules that they never follow. They justify their mistakes and use almost everything under the sun as the cause of their inability to do their jobs. They recruit supporters to give value to their personal gripes.  The truth is that you can never change a person’s character. It is easy to spot these kinds of people. Eventually, you will see patterns of behavior and it will easier for you to deal with them.

Sometimes, if you cannot muster a big group to work with you, let go. You do not need a big team to be effective. You just need a few dedicated people. Nurture them but keep the team open for those who may eventually want to join in. Who knows, the small team might grow especially if other employees see how effective the dream team is.

If they cannot do the job, do it yourself. If you do not know how to do it, hire from outside. If an employee complains, give him the task. If he accepts, then you found a genius. If he does not accept, that is the end of the story.

Do not put too much attention on transient employees who have chosen not to stay. They are just waiting for the next job. You need committed people. A transient may stay in the company for six years and still consider himself or herself a transient. However, a committed employee may only stay for one month but his or her commitment is undeniable.

Ignore those who want to pull you down; you give them more power if you pay attention to them, but be ready to give them a piece of your mind when they cross the line.  Every boss has the right to reprimand an employee with rightful anger. That is why we call them “boss.”

Reward more than you punish. Make policies that reward the best performers and most disciplined. Quantify your evaluation system. Numbers do not lie and they do not have an agenda. Even the most paranoid and most skeptical employee will never question the objectivity of numbers.  Certainly, the best reward is money but if your company cannot afford money then use other incentives such as awards and paid leave. Do not underestimate the value of a one- or two-day paid leave to a hardworking employee.

 People will always say you have favorite employees even if you do not have any. You can deny it but they will never believe so I suggest that you just owe it. Yes, when I was a manager, I had some favorite employees but I never talk about them and you should not declare as well. “I have favorites because they make my job easy.  If you want to be my favorite, then make my job easy.” Period.


Whatever you do, never sell your integrity. This is self-explanatory. When everything else fails, keep your integrity in tact. When it finally comes to that moment when you have to make an exit, no one can say that you sold your integrity, even if you are the only one who cares.  If the company asks you to betray your own beliefs or commit a crime, express your opposition. If they persist, then it is time to reexamine your position.  Life has so much to offer. 

In the end, you also have to realize being the boss is just a job. It is not your life. Take time to enjoy and be with people who will bring you back to earth. Laugh. Take a vacation.  Get a hobby. Do something outside of work. 

Being a manager is just like acting. You play a different role at work, and play it as best you can. However, once office hours are over, no matter how long you work, let go. It is time to play a different role, perhaps “the best friend” role.

When I was a manager, I always told myself, “I am stern in public, but I laugh in private, and in between, it is all me.” 


The Illusion of Order (Managing Disorder)

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