"Remember It's People, Not Sheep": Why Management Is an Art

by Jill Foster on October 14, 2009

Some of our readers have asked for tips on managing men.
Speakers and authors galore are feasting on how to manage the newest generation of workers. And I think all are asking the wrong questions.

When I was 21, I had 12 men working for me in an environment where women were rare and hostility not uncommon. Day one, my new boss told me that one of my staff had publicly sworn never to work for a woman.

All my staff were older than I, knew far more, and most were helpful.
I waited until the guy actually gave me reason for concern and then talked to him alone. He knew I could hurt his promotion chances or cut his pay. I realized (somehow) that I could also make my future problems worse. So I reminded him of his stakes and told him of my desire for a solution that helped us both. I suggested he work well for me for three months when I would get him transferred to a male boss with a positive review.

The result: He thought some and took the offer—and stayed as long as I held that management job, at his own request.

Now I have made my share of mistakes in managing people over the years—and then some! But the one mistake I have not made is to manage “men” or “disabled” or any “group”.

I have always tried to manage each person as an individual.
When you hire or manage people who are a lot like you, it seems easy. You may not immediately recognize the loss of the growth and learning that come from having different experiences and viewpoints to help your business succeed. You may be surprised at the disappointment and difficulties which occur because you are too alike.

But when you hire or manage people whose background is not just like yours, you may feel uncertain. Do you have to learn more about their background or culture to understand them? Must you be more careful in what you say? Can you get the productivity you need?

The questions that tax managers
These issues tax managers in general and none more so than those who really want “an answer”; yes, just one. Perhaps it is those many years in which I dealt with too many assumptions about all women that were based on one woman’s behavior or stereotypes but I strongly believe we must treat people as individuals.

And a lot of human resource management research backs me up. Interestingly, neuroscience now has found that our brain treats social interactions at work as a critical element in our ability to perform. Individuals who feel excluded, even in minor ways, experience that as pain and productivity plummets.

Effective management—of men by a woman, of older by younger, of any “group” by a “non-group” member—is done on the basis of individual treatment and individual respect. Certainly it helps to develop your self-knowledge, to learn about non-verbal communications, and cultural or historical differences, to understand the value of diverse ideas and knowledge.

But treating every person as an individual and with respect is key. And yes, it is easier to say than to do since it demands real self-awareness.

A good manager is an authentic person, who -

  • knows and is comfortable with her own ethics and values;
  • is aware of her assumptions and biases;
  • treats people individually, fairly, and respectfully;
  • builds on the strengths of each of their team members;
  • takes responsibility for their own actions and follow-through on commitments;
  • creates a climate in which individuals know what is expected of them, have the resources needed to be effective, are recognized and rewarded for their achievements, and feel supported by their boss.

“The first woman who…”
I remember taking little pride early in my career each time I was “the first woman who…” because I was always conscious of how many men would take any error or miscue and attribute it to all women. Do you want to live that way—as “Caesar’s wife”, just so that you can lump others into convenient groups?

Or had you not thought of it that way—that you too can be lumped in with one or more groups?

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Guest contributor Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker, and executive with expertise in human capital. Launching a new Women Grow Business series on human resources for small business, Patricia is founder of Strategies for Human Resources. She helps small to mid-size organizations achieve their goals through more effective human capital strategy and management. And she can be reached through her website SHRinsight.com, where archives for her ongoing management series can be found.

(Image Respect by Missnae, Creative Commons)

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