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October - 2006 - issue > People Manager
What-Type-Are-You?
C Mahalingam (Mali)
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Just in case you wonder what makes some shine and some do not as People Managers, here is my theory around that in this piece! While published literature is replete with management styles and leadership traits as to what makes managers tick, I am taking a more pragmatic and what-you-see-everyday view of this aspect. While the intent is not to pigeon-hole the managers, it is inevitable that you bracket them into a few categories to better understand how success or failure is more a function of the choices these managers make.

If you are a shrewd observer of People Managers, you notice that they come under one of the following four categories:
Category 1: Managers who make things happen
(the Action Heroes)
Category 2 : Managers who watch things happen
(the Watchful Wardens)
Category 3 : Managers who wonder what is happening around (the Clueless Captains); and
Category 4 : Managers ‘to whom’ all those things might be happening!!! (the Classic Comedians!)

Action Heroes: Managers who make things happen: You know them when you experience them. Their “passion for people” is visible in everything they do. They score a resounding ‘yes’ for each of the following ‘Passion for People Indicators”:
Passion for People Indicators:
A. Ensure their employees have the resources to do a good job
B Ensure how their work relates to customer success and the company’s vision
and values
C Listen to their suggestions and take them seriously
D Visibly support their learning and development
E Provide periodic feedback on their performance
F Keep them well-informed and communicate just-in-time all the time
G Appreciate contributions and recognize visibly
H Treat them fairly and justly
Action Heroes are those that typify (borrowing from the Blake & Mouton’s famous Managerial Grid framework) high-high of ‘Concern for Task’ and ‘Concern for People’. They look for coach-able moments during their interactions with their team members all the time and use them to coach. They provide role clarity and clarify their expectations and standards for measurement of results. They play the proverbial Pygmalion with people and get great results. They are seen and experienced as tough and demanding, but never as nasty and unpredictable.

Watchful Wardens: They are passive spectators of what is going on. They do not have any points of view about people management and usually get away with doing minimum demanded of the people managers. People grow and develop under such managers in spite of them and not because of them. Proactive people management is not their cup of tea. Their contributions to their team’s development are minimal. They stand as a witness to organizational processes managing the people. Their sense of self worth is derived basically from the position and not from team management. Team members have scant regard for such managers and rarely go to them for advice
or guidance.

Clueless Captains: These managers either lack complete appreciation of what people management role entails or have reached their level of incompetence so they do not deliver any value to the team. Team members view these managers with sympathy at one end and with apathy at another end. They are marginal managers and often work as individual contributors. They are very uncomfortable when they are called upon to appraise, reward and manage talented team members. They go through serious ‘identity crisis’ and more often behave as if they are just another team member. At the ridiculous end of this spectrum of clueless captaincy, they do not even know who is coming into the team and who is exiting.

Classic Comedians: These are the ones that get tossed all over in the organizations. They feed the feeling that people management in the organization is a joke. Employees do not see any value other than some ‘entertainment’ value working with these managers. Everything they do is viewed as funny and everything they say is classified as crazy. They allow themselves to be manipulated by many and end up being at the receiving end of all the unpleasant surprises.

In the final analysis, it is no rocket science to realize that an organization is only as good as its people managers are and that leadership teams should elevate “selection of people managers” to a burning Corporate Priority. Leaving it to chances is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. So, the first question HR Managers need to ask is: Does my company have a stated philosophy on how to identify, select, groom and retain more and more Action Heroes and weed out the rest.


Mali is the Sr.VP-HR with Symphony Services Corporation. He can be reached at mahalingam.c@symphonysv.com
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