Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Opposite of Micromanaging

At the Great Ideas conference in Miami earlier this year I did a session with Jeff De Cagna on leadership lessons from 80s music (chronicled on the Get Me Jamie Notter blog starting here), and one of the lessons I talked about was "learn about generations." In preparing for that talk I started to reflect on what it has been like over the last eight months being an executive director of a small association and working with other staff at the AMC where I am employed. 

Specifically, I have received feedback both from my volunteer leaders and the staff I'm working with that I needed to "show up" more and have more of a "presence." This is valuable feedback and I'm working on it, but it also got me thinking about generational issues. I happen to fit the Gen X stereotype perfectly when it comes to independence and a distaste for micromanaging. I was the typical "latch-key" kid who took care of himself growing up, and it's true that in my previous jobs I tended to bristle against the boss being too involved with what I was doing.

So, not surprisingly, now that I'm the boss I tend to work with others to figure out what the direction is or what the tasks are, and then I leave them alone. It was interesting to get the feedback from others that this wasn't welcomed by others (in different generations) as much as I unconsciously assumed it would be. The Board even considered my lack of presence a bit of a "vacuum" that needed to be filled.

So as more and more top leadership positions get filled by Generation Xers, how is the typical leadership behavior going to change? More importantly, how will the system react? Because of the overall population numbers (Generation x being the small middle of the hourglass) it is quite likely that even at the top of the org chart, Gen X will be a minority in the system (in my example the Board is almost all Boomers and the staff feedback came from Millennials) so it's not about some new Gen X leadership style taking over. It's about shifting the organization's capacity, and maybe its culture a bit, to account for new leadership behaviors.


Maddie Grant said...

I fully admit this is a knee-jerk reaction, but that would drive me completely nuts - maybe why I am so happy having my own business now. Assuming my work was up to par, having the boss/members micromanage on one side and my staff needing to be hand-held on the other is enough to make me want to run away screaming. Particularly as people like me are incredibly "available" - long beyond the standard 9 to 5 hours - even if we're not physically in the office. I think this is about trust - you have to be able to trust that your people can just get on with it and ask you for guidance when they need it, and you have to be able to believe that your higher-ups trust you.

Obviously, if it's actually a case of not enough getting done/not enough oversight/not enough communication, then you would need to zero in on what the actual issue is.

Eric Lanke said...

I've had some experiences similar to the ones Jamie describes. In my previous position I was regularly encouraged by my boss to have more of a "presence" with the staff I supervised (some boomers, some Xers, and some Millenials). In my current position, I'm even less engaged with the day-to-day of my direct reports than I was at the old place, and everything seems to be swimming along fine. Fine, certainly, from my point of view, which echoes Jamie's—help them figure out what the direction and tasks are and then get out of their way.

I think this issue may be more symptomatic of an organization's culture than the generations that help create it.

Jamie Notter said...

Mads: I am not saying that just because I get the "presence" request from these two groups, that I have to change and do things the way they expect them. I just realized that I would need to be more explicit with each group about how we do things, rather than assuming they each would like be left alone (as I would have). Generational stuff tends to fill in our "default" settings, but that doesn't mean we (or they) have to keep them that way.

Post a Comment