Manager’s dilemma: are you being played?

Manager’s dilemma: are you being played?

In my work as a trainer and business coach to managers and teams in companies of all sizes, I often wonder whether managers realise how much they are actually being played. In some of my coaching I would equally equip corporate clients to manage both upward and downward. If you want to build a career in the corporate world it is an essential skill to learn, and if you are the manager then awareness of it happening to you is paramount as you may be drawn into someone’s agenda unknowingly.

I coach newly promoted managers in one multinational organisation and their biggest initial challenge is that they are no longer one of the team members. The fact that they gained a title and access to meetings where higher level decisions are made is the first factor that sets them apart as well as the fact that they may now have to give feedback to people they used to be very friendly with. The common ground of all being in the same boat has changed. It is sometimes the downside of stepping up and furthering your career.

In other multinational organisations managers join the company from abroad and have no network of friends in their new base, which makes work the only point of social networks and contacts. The challenge is to be a manager and to make friends at your own level, often I see managers becoming very friendly with team members, which invariably causes envy and an opportunity to be played by staff.

In my view the best and most objective approach to management is to clearly draw a professional line. If that means creating a little bit of distance between you and your former team or new team, it will put you in a stronger management position. It is easier to be objective and detached about business decisions involving people.

Wanting to be seen as one of the ‘boys’ is something I come across a lot in large companies and the after hours drinking or sports becoming the common factor. The risk with this is that in your drunken moments you do let out company confidential information or you become persuaded by your team members of an injustice even if the view is completely tainted by their personal opinions and circumstances. I have seen serious under-performers playing managers out of hours and when it comes to dealing with their under-performance managers don’t do it, which in terms creates a culture where as long as you are friendly with the boss, you can get away with just about anything. It is a breeding ground for bad practice and often bullying by the perceived ‘untouchable’ party.

Strong and skilled staff typically appreciates professional and supportive management with transparency in decision making and communication. They will challenge the poor variety and they will start playing the system if that is the only way up in an organisation or else when it really doesn’t reconcile with their values they will leave.

You can spot the influencers, because they always have a reason to come and talk to you both during working hours and outside them. You will receive the most random invitations from them. They will do their best to give inside information, which is intended to help you make better decisions, however usually some information will be subjectively tainted and would require objective verification on your part.

As a middle manager you are always the conduit in the middle of the conversation, you are doing your best to implement the messages from senior management as well as listening to the issues from the team. It is a delicate and often fine balance to be caught up in and when you are in this boat you have 2 sides that are playing you at the same time. The only way through is to find your happy medium and at all times do your own research so you can make an educated and objective decision. Most employees will enjoy working for a fair and professional manager, yet the statistics continue to read that the main reason for leaving an organisation is bad management.

At times being a manager can be an isolated role at any level of an organisation, because as a human being you want to reach your targets as much as the next person. You would like to be perceived as fair, objective and good at what you do; more often than not you are being questioned on those very things often by people with their own very coloured agenda’s. The biggest fear of CEOs of top companies is to be found out that they don’t know everything and that sometimes they are not so sure whether the next decision is the right decision, but they still have to sell the strategy and vision of where they want to go.

In my view as a manager what is key is to work with your own values in mind and some can be non-negotiable, I place a lot of importance on integrity and would have major issues when the wool is pulled over my eyes or in business dealings when other people are being compromised. I have to say what is on my mind most of the time, which is why I make an excellent coach as you will receive instant feedback, but as a manager this isn’t always the best policy. The other part of being a manager is staying professional and if that means creating a little bit of distance to allow objective decision making, just do it. In any case watch the players and learn the rules of the game.