On managing grownups

So, I was a newly promoted manager, with a head full of ideas and a heart of full of excitement. At last, I had arrived in the “in club”. I was in the know. I was being honored and respected with rank. I was a manager.

Thankfully I wasn’t promoted as a manager in my old department. (That happened later.) Instead, I was given charge of a newly formed department, but one that had to work closely with my old department. And so it happened that I was having a work-related discussion with one of my co-workers from my former department and, along the way, some questions emerged that needed to be answered by consulting with the head of our primary customer service department. So, I go off to consult with my fellow manager.

And my co-worker came with me.

But no, you don’t understand. I wanted to have a private conversation with my fellow manager. And you’re not invited.

This led to…ahem…some conflict.

Now, I must admit that I don’t remember enough of the specifics of the situation to know if I was justified in making this particular call. I’m willing to bet that I’d make a different choice now, but maybe there was some extenuating circumstance that I’m forgetting that would have justified that call.

I do remember what came next. My co-worker’s manager–my former boss–asked to talk with me. He wasn’t pleased with how things had gone down, and he wanted to defend his guy. As part of that conversation, he said something that has stuck with me ever since:

“He’s a grownup, and he needs to be treated that way.”

If you’re a manager in the restaurant business, you might be in the unenviable position of managing teenagers. But, most of the working world is comprised of grownups. Adult men and women who voluntarily offer their labor to the organizations for which they work.

But how often are they treated as grownups? How often are they consulted in decisions that affect them? How often are their opinions about anything solicited? More often, we seem to see the mushroom style of management: feed them shit and keep them in the dark.

On the flip side, how often are they challenged and inspired to excel at their jobs as an expression of their own personality? How often are they called up to new levels of quality and excellence in their work as an expression of maturity? Rather, it seems like we try to constrain and control people by fencing them in with rules and regulations.

In other words, we treat them like children.

And then we’re surprised that they act like children.


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