According to BusinessDictionary.com, management is defined as “the organization and coordination of an enterprise in accordance with certain policies and in achievement of clearly defined objectives.” In other words, guiding people and processes in a way that supports and advances organizational goals. Most other dictionary definitions however suggest that management is to be in charge or in control. Management is a critical component of all organizations, large and small, but how much do people like to be managed? The answer lies in the important distinction underlying these two definitions – the difference between control and guidance. A persons perception of and reception to management relies heavily on which definition their organization uses.
In interviews I often ask prospective candidates to describe their experiences with management. Those who have experienced positive environments often use words like leader, coach, advocate, supervise, and direct to describe their experiences. Individuals who have not, however, associate their experiences with words like boss, command, rule, and take over. These descriptions draw a very clear line between management philosophies and the resulting impact they have: people enjoy guidance and dislike control.
So why don’t people like to be controlled? First, it is important to distinguish between control and systems. People often like, prefer, and/or need systems – clearly defined guidelines or boundaries within which they are allowed to move freely. Control, however, rarely allows for free movement, thereby preventing individuals from functioning in a way that is native, natural and efficient. Control assumes that the controller knows the best way to accomplish an end-goal while guidance provides systems for moving effectively towards an end-goal but empowers people to accomplish the details in the way that is most fitting to them.
To illustrate this point let’s consider a rafting trip that I took last summer down the Arkansas river. The end-goal was to have as much fun as possible within the parameters of personal safety. Six rafters were given the necessary tools to do this (wet suit, life vest, helmet and paddle), were provided instruction on paddling and safety (systems) and were placed in a raft with a guide. The guide’s job was to help us achieve our end-goal. He did this by telling us what to expect as we approached obstacles, explaining the strategy for overcoming them, and keeping us functioning as a team to overcome them. He did not at any point take control of our paddles. He left it up to each individual to contribute, to the best of our ability, to accomplish the work of maneuvering the raft. He was more skilled and more experienced than the six of us combined, he understood the end-goal, but he knew that the work and the experience was our own.
When management views their role as guide they empower individuals to use their experience, talents and skills to achieve a desired outcome. People like this type of management because it gives them security, allows for innovation, and validates self-worth. When management views their role as controller however, they create obstacles, stifle innovation, and demotivate by trumping the individual. It is neither effective nor efficient to manage in this manner, nor is it professional. Professional managers know how to get the most out of their team by giving them what they need and then getting out of their way – guidance.