The One Tune Manager

Posted by jlubans on June 25, 2017

Caption: Yes, Just Play One Tune More.

Once I was a manager of several branches of an organization. One of the branches was less dependent on the central organization than were the others. It – let’s call it the “Lone Branch” - had its own personnel budget but did depend on “Central” for some services.
In any case, I included the Lone Branch in my “dossier”, if one were supercilious enough to call it that.
It was my custom to visit each branch monthly. These meetings were scheduled and usually lasted an hour.
Initially, everyone seemed to like the idea. As a branch it was easy to feel isolated; my showing up on a regular basis was a link to Central, a reminder that they were not alone. After a few years most of these meetings began to feel routine, like a drill. They’d evolved into a duty, like visiting an uncongenial aunt in a far away town just because you’re passing through.
So, one day when my boss and I were talking he remarked how the head of the Lone Branch really liked my monthly visits! He had told my boss, that I “played him like a fine violin” – he was giving me credit for being respectful, diplomatic and insightful without being intrusive, without trying to impose Central’s controls on his bailiwick.
My boss was impressed since the head of the Lone Branch was a long time personal and professional friend.
But, that pat on the back gave me pause. Why? Because it dawned on me I was a one-tune manager. I did not adjust my style, my manner, and my approach to any of these half dozen or so personalities. I’d arrive, we’d talk and then I would depart. If there were issues for me to address, I would get on it. Usually there was not much more to do.
Dare I say it? These meetings were boring. I began to wonder Why meet? The meetings had become fairly one-sided (the branch head telling me what was happening) and never asking me for advice or ideas.
Of course, I accept some of the blame, at least half.
Still, I had productive and satisfying scheduled meetings with some department heads? Upon reflection, those successful meetings were a matter of personality and like-mindedness – we all agreed upon and wanted change and were willing to do more than our share. And, we trusted each other. Trust.
Yes, I should have done something. I could have asked myself: Why is this meeting so dull? Why is this person telling me things he/she thinks I want to hear? Why is she not including me in idea generation? Why is he not asking me for my ideas?
I could have included the branch head in these reflections. I could have changed the tone of those meetings, but did not know enough on how to do that.
Alas, a one-tune manager.
How then to improve one’s repertoire?
When I interviewed the head coach of a women’s basketball team – a team that would become one of the best in the nation – she told me (confirmed by the players) she tailored her coaching to each of the players. A few needed more encouragement, needed more advice, needed more direction, needed to be reminded about sharing the ball more; a few needed discipline. Of course, these players thrived on this feedback, they wanted it. I mention this since without reciprocated interest, it becomes all the more difficult to have an honest back and forth.
Well you get the idea, or do you?
My coming in and listening attentively was only part of the good meeting equation.
I should have been much clearer about what I wanted from these meetings. If I resented being treated like a visiting dignitary, I should have said so.
When in college in Pennsylvania I had a summer job in the Officers’ Club on a nearby military base. At least once each summer the supervising general came for an inspection – always announced, never a surprise. A few days ahead, the base binged on cleaning, painting, sprucing-up and repairing.
Any signs and evidence of slackness, unpreparedness were remedied or swept under the rug.
I recall hauling to an off-base freezer the technically illegal “aged steak” sides of beef from the Officers’ Club. Since many of the officers relished old steak, the club manager made sure it was out of sight. Once the general left, we’d haul back the sides of beef.
Maybe a few of my direct reports were hiding the “aged steak” whenever I came to visit. Then again, maybe there was nothing to hide.
Meetings (one-on-one or groups) are work, hard work. The more we engage the HOW, the quality of our meetings, the better they’ll be.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($3.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

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