Are you a Neanderthal manager?

Are you a Neanderthal manager?

Managing a team of people can be a challenging thing and it takes skill to do it well. How many managers are good at this? I don’t believe there are many, unfortunately.

I think there are lots of managers that can come into a new workplace and maintain what’s there. They don’t really do much damage to people and they don’t really develop people; they more or less keep things going along on the usual path. And often that’s good enough. It’s less common to find a manager that is able to go into a new workplace and use their people management skills to build on what’s there: build the morale, skill level, energy level, productivity and ultimately the profitability of that business.

There are lots of different management styles, some that have been shown to be effective and some not so effective. I’m of the belief that the majority of managers we come across fall into two categories (or some combination of these).

Category 1 managers: easy going styles
First, there are the managers that don’t do much managing when it comes to the people that report to them. They largely allow employees to do their own thing, which might work well when those employees are highly experienced and self-motivated. But overall, this management style has been shown to be ineffective.

Category 2 managers: authoritarian styles
Then you get the managers who use an authoritarian style of management. They’re the managers that tend to rule by fear. They’re prone to angry outbursts, constantly criticise employees, and they have a terrific knack for finding what’s wrong with any job that’s been done. Managers like this tend to make people’s lives miserable.

I believe the most common styles of management we see fall somewhere between these two extremes, or they oscillate between these extremes. I think it’s a sad situation, because the knowledge of how to get the best out of a team of people has advanced a great deal. Psychology research has helped a lot in this area and you see examples of this knowledge being used by sports psychologists who work with elite sports teams. You don’t have to be a sports psychologist to apply this knowledge. It’s available for all of us to apply. But unfortunately, these ideas have been slow to take hold in organisations.

Instead of embracing this knowledge, many managers resort to an authoritarian style of management, which I like to think of as a Neanderthal style.

Five characteristics of the Neanderthal style of managing
 Here’s 5 characteristics of Neanderthal managers. If you identify with a number of these, maybe it’s time to think about evolving.

1. You believe employees are always trying to get away with something.
Sure, we can all think of examples of employees who take advantage of their employer. But it’s another thing to have a widespread belief that the majority of employees are looking to take advantage of you and always trying to get away with something. That sort of pessimism about human nature can’t be fuelling anything positive in terms of your management style.

2. You believe a “good serve” from time to time does a lot of good.
The stereotype of the angry manager, giving employees “a good serve”, yelling at them for not completing a job, for not doing a job well enough, or for making a mistake is one I think we are all too familiar with. Maybe you’ve seen other managers taking this approach with employees, seen the fear it instils, and then come to believe this is the way to get results. It’s usually abusive and it causes damage. Plain and simple. Just because you haven’t seen a better way, does that mean there is no better way? If you walk around with the false belief that this is somehow good for your team and your business, maybe it’s time to seek out some role models who have found better ways of managing.

3. You believe that complimenting and verbally rewarding employees will result in them getting a “big head” or it will cause them to “drop the ball”.
It’s a myth to think that performance will worsen when an employee gets positive feedback for doing a good job. It’s surprising how many managers are uncomfortable with giving employees positive feedback. What have you got to fear? Positive feedback is associated with growth in behaviours and performance, as I wrote about here. For me, knowing how, when, and how often to give positive (and negative) feedback is a key people management skill.

4. You don’t give any thought to how employees feel when they go home.
We spend so much of our time at work. Imagine having to share that time (for many of us it’s 8 hours a day, 5 days a week) with a manager that subscribes to the Neanderthal style of managing. What’s that doing to how a person feels and the spill over into their personal life when they leave work? I’ve conducted many staff surveys over the years, pored over the data, and I’m familiar with the research literature in this area. In a typical organisation, about 40% of employees have low job satisfaction; often, it’s because of the way they are being treated by managers.

When you look at what this means collectively, all of the businesses in the country and the managers within them, what impact are these work environments having on so many people? Some managers wouldn’t give a thought to how their style of management is impacting on the employees they manage, not just how they feel at work, but the spill over effect into their home lives. And it’s not just about wanting people to feel good at work because it’s a more healthy way to operate. We know that when people feel good at work, they are more likely to do good work.

5. You frequently think or say “seriously, how many times do I have to tell these people?”
It’s become a common expression and if you manage a team of people, inevitably there will be periods of frustration. I’ve felt like that. But if you feel this way a lot of the time, then I recommend reframing this expression to: seriously, why don’t I have the skills I need to be able to motivate and mobilise this team of people? Instead of making the problem about the team you manage, maybe the problem lies with you.

When you think about it, this expression reflects powerlessness. For me, a critical aspect of good people management is having power over the people you manage. The word ‘power’ often has negative connotations, but that’s not my intention when I use the word. It’s not about being a ‘control freak’. That’s not what I mean when I use the word power. It’s about the personal power that comes from having the knowledge and skill to motivate and mobilise people to achieve something, largely through what you say and how you say it. This then results in people striving to achieve more than the status quo. And feeling good about it. That’s power.

Hopefully, you don’t identify with too many of these characteristics. I’m sure many managers will identify with some of them, at least to some extent. None of us are perfect! We all have room for improvement. Reflecting on your own management style is a good thing, as is thinking about how you can continue the journey of developing your people management skills. Everybody benefits: you, the team of people that report to you, your customers, and that means higher profitability in the long term.

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