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May - 2009 - issue > People Manager
On Being Balanced
C Mahalingam (Mali)
Friday, May 8, 2009
Peter Drucker, the Management Guru, has often questioned the notion of ‘well rounded people’. He sums up his strong views saying, ’Where there are peaks, there are valleys’. This has to be understood in the right context. When we deal with people, some of us expect perfection, and anything less is regarded as negative. But this is only one side of the story. The irony here is that perfection is defined as self. When people deviate from our own perception of perfection which is what we believe strongly as we are, we are in for even more trouble in managing them. Likewise, where people do not behave or deliver as expected and agreed to, there is a responsibility on the people managers to call out and fix this behavior. When some of us turn a blind eye towards the issues as though they were someone else’s, the imbalance shows. All said and done, let us recognize that the success in the role of a people manager depends on being balanced despite being human.

Behaviors are Beliefs Turned into Action

While as people managers we are also human and therefore we have our own share of peaks and valleys and strengths and weaknesses, it is no reason to avoid doing certain things that help us be balanced. Inasmuch as our pluses and minuses impact our teams negatively, there is every reason to stand before the mirror and ask ourselves…. “Am I imbalanced so much that I am being perceived and experienced as not being effective?” If this mirror test is not helpful enough, it is good idea to check with our trusted friends and colleagues or our HR partners to help analyze our styles and behaviors and agree on an action plan to become more balanced. Make no mistakes. Behavior changes are the most difficult to make and they take a long time to realize. Behaviors are rooted in beliefs. Behaviors are beliefs turned into action. Hence the challenge is tall. However, it is possible to work on our beliefs as people managers and shape our behavior to be more balanced. There lies our success in managing people.

Dysfunctional Behavior

Let me describe some common dysfunctional people manager behaviors that hurt organizations. Eventually it hurts the manager himself as he finds his own career starting to derail even faster than he built it up step by step.

l Tolerating non-performance or marginal performance.
l Being blind to commitments not being met or timelines being repeatedly flouted.
l Not checking those employees who refuse to be team players and destroy teamwork by various acts of commissions and omissions.
l Not differentiating performers and non-performers when it comes to rewarding.
l Putting up with unsocial or unacceptable behavior simply because the junior is smarter or better at his or her work.
l Not delegating enough, or over-delegating to a point of abdication.
l Not enjoying the trust of the team members or doing things that destroy the trust – for example withholding critical information.
l Inability to say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests and demands.
The list can be longer as these behaviors manifest on a daily basis while dealing with people. These interpersonal flaws can be fixed with relative ease if people managers recognize them - through reflection or feedback invited from important members - and their impact that negatively tilt their balance.

Becoming more Balanced

Most of these interpersonal flaws and imbalanced behaviors are well-informed and reinforced. As such, they offer the hope for unlearning and relearning the more balanced behaviors. There are no easy ways or cook-book recipes for improvement. Sheer will and action are what one needs. I would suggest the following to achieve this:

l Reflect: There is nothing like self reflection. All successful people in different walks of life, be they sports personalities or professors in academic setting or practicing managers, spend a few minutes every day recalling their performance in the field or at work and make certain choices and resolutions. This is aimed at doing things better and preventing doing certain things that they should not have done.

l Read: Reading builds and improves one’s outlook. It is not about reading management books. It could as well be biographies of highly respected or successful people, or even fiction. Again, reflecting on what your reading consists of, like storylines and the fictional settings of the life journey, is important. It helps form better perspectives about what is right and what is wrong, what is natural and unnatural, and what is good and what is evil.

l Reach out: Reaching out to trusted colleagues, friends, and managers and seeking their feedback is very helpful. Our behavior is our second nature and therefore we do not often see it except through our own ‘glasses’. Learning to be at peace with ourselves when we hear from our friends as to how they saw our behavior through their ‘glasses’ is an art by itself and it comes with practice.
l Recharge: When you have learnt through reading, reflecting, and reaching out that there is another and better way to manage and behave, give it a sincere try next time around. This is difficult. It is often akin to asking a right-handed person to use the left hand to write his name. But then, when you do it consciously, you recharge yourself for the next time.
l Recover: There is this option that is open most of the time, when you realize you did not do the right thing, Especially when you feel that you have been too tough or too easy on people while dealing with them and are apparently not balanced in your approach to the situation, You have the options to keep quiet or do something to recover. What you choose to do drives your future options and behavior. If you choose to keep quiet, you miss the opportunity to learn and practice a new improved behavior. If you choose to recover by correcting it with an apology, you do stand a great chance of rediscovering yourself and reinforcing the new behavioral aspect that you desire to be part of your character.

It is all about Being Fair and Balanced

In the end, good management is all about being fair and being perceived as such by people whom we manage. And remember, it is a batting average as Peter Drucker points out. It is not about scoring 100 runs in every match, but it is about continuously improving your batting average over time. As with many other lofty ideals in life, becoming balanced is also something worth working towards. It effectively makes you a better manager and advances your career. There is, of course, the easier alternative of effecting no change; but the consequence will be that you vanish into the managerial category of ’passed on and pissed over’. The choice is yours.

The author is Executive Vice President & Chief People Officer, Symphony Services.
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