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Four Managers in a Crisis March 14, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, Process engineering.
Tags: , ,

When things go wrong there are four possible responses: ignore it, criticize from the sidelines, jump in and manage the crisis, or help others learn how to manage it.

A manager can ignore the problem and hope it goes away by itself, or that someone else takes responsibility for fixing it. To be fair, sometimes “no action” is the right choice, particularly when more information is needed or there are serious consequences for taking the wrong action, but I would classify that as active management. Yes, sometimes the problem really does belong to a different manager or a different team, but I’m talking about neglecting an issue that is included in the team’s current scope of responsibilities. This is passive-aggressive behavior and hurts the problem solving effort by refusing to contribute skills and experiences.

A manager can criticize from the sidelines. Criticizing may be marginally better than ignoring because at least there is some engagement, but the criticism creates a negative and defensive environment that inhibits brainstorming. This manager is less interested in solving the problem and more interested in blaming someone for the problem. There’s something wrong with every proposed solution. Subordinates will eventually hide problems from this manager, which may actually lead to a better outcome in some cases, but once again this deprives the team of the skills and experiences of the manager.

A manager can jump in and solve the problem themselves. This one is very seductive, and I’m sure everyone reading this will admit that they take this path most of the time. Typically the manager is the one with the most experience, they’ve seen this problem (or something very much like it) before, and they know what solution works (or what to try first). It’s fast and it’s easy and doesn’t require a lot of explanation. “Get out of my way, let me do it, and nobody gets hurt.” I’ll admit there are times when fast is good, but obviously there’s not much opportunity for learning; or at least not until after the crisis has passed, and only if you take the time to do review the chronology of events.

A manager can help others learn how to manage the crisis. This is risky and won’t work in many circumstances. It’s not a good idea to hand over the wheel when the car is in danger of careening off the cliff. This is not the same as ignoring the problem or criticizing from the sidelines. It requires the manager to remain actively involved, providing the benefit of experience, sometimes backing off, and sometimes criticizing. The delegates will not do things the same way you would do them, and mistakes will be made, but the goal is to develop a stronger, more confident, more responsible and capable team that can accomplish more. This manager is a force multiplier, a signal amplifier, or a catalyst, depending on your engineering metaphor.



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