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Letters to a Young Manager

Why Don't Managers Act More Like Parents?, #30
LTYM > Managing People -- How to Begin

Dear Sophie,
I’m sorry to hear about your difficulty with the new employee. What concerns me most about your note is your worry that he may not make it. That is a red flag for me.

Expecting new employees to manage themselves may be ambitious in the first few weeks. That is time when managers need to be the most directive-- somewhat like the tour guide showing them around the company and the way you do things. When new workers flounder, we may be tempted to doubt our hiring decision --or worse-- to think that they make not make it.

I learned an important lesson from an engineer, who I’ll call Lee, at a Wall Street company where I was managing the data center operations. Lee was born and raised in Taiwan. I remember him being a bulldog worker and very dedicated to what he was doing. He cared. Every so often I would sit down one-on-one with the engineers from the systems development group and ask them how things were going. It was during one of these meetings with Lee that he said something that made me recoil with questions.

“Why don’t American managers,” he asked, “ act more like parents?”
“Like parents?” I responded with no small amount of incredulity. “Why would you ever want your manager to be more parental?”
“No, you misunderstand,” he continued. “Parents have high expectations, are demanding and even critical when we don’t make the grade. But they always expect us to succeed.”
I was floored. Did you ever hear a word of wisdom that caught you by surprise and left you speechless? That’s where I was when he said that.

The question I ask myself now when I have doubts about an employee is, “Am I expecting her to succeed or to fail?”

A related story is the one about the management experiment run a number of years ago. I believe it was machinists. Two managers were told they were getting a new team of workers. One was told that his team tested in the top 10% of their class in mechanical aptitude. The other manager was told his team tested in the bottom 10%. After a few months, the top 10% was outperforming the bottom 10% team two to one. Here’s the rub: both teams had tested the same. The only difference was what the manager believed and expected from his team.

Think about these stories. What if more managers expected us to succeed? What if more managers thought we were stars? What kind of a team would we have then? Food for thought.



Expect your people to do well and succeed

Discussion Questions:

1) What if more managers expected us to succeed?
2) What if more managers thought we were stars?
3) What kind of a team would we have then?

For Further Reading:

See "Accomplishing goals through others," Letter #123

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