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Why Can’t Managers Make Decisions Any More?

Modern managing is hard.

In years gone by managing was much easier. Everyone had clearly defined roles. You knew where the boundaries were.

Managers ‘managed’.

And workers ‘worked’.

Decisions were made by managers, and the orders were carried out by the workers. The workplace functioned much like a military command and control structure.

Sure, history shows that at times those old-school managers pushed too hard, were unfair to employees, and didn’t really focus on the well-being of their workers.

Aspirations Increase

Time moves on. Aspirations increase. Each subsequent generation wants/expects/strives for a bit more than what their parents had.

These days it seems as if many managers are confused into management paralysis. Not sure what to stand for. Scared of making decisions.

This confusion — and the resultant lack of direction for staff who report to them — may be rooted in conflicting values and misdirected altruism, demonstrated by thinking along the lines of:

  • Should I tell their team members what to do? Or should I let them discover the path for themselves?
  • I need to treat everyone as an individual at all times.
  • How can I keep everyone happy?
  • How much responsibility should I take, or give to my team?
  • Everyone is an adult. Surely they can look after themselves.
  • Should I focus on being a leader (doing the right things), or on being a manager (doing things right)?
  • I can’t correct them (or tell them they’re wrong) because that isn’t a nice thing to do.
  • If they don’t meet their goals, maybe the goals were too high?

Why is Managing in the 21st Century so Damned Hard?

Recent sociological changes haven’t helped.

Following the Permissive Parenting era of the 1960’s through 80’s (defined by developmental psychologist Diana Buamrind in 1973 and typified by parents having few behavioural expectations for their children), parents began to aspire to be their children’s best friend rather than taking the flak of being the adult, setting boundaries, saying ‘no’, and holding children accountable for their actions.

The development of new technologies during the 1990’s (the Internet being a major force) opened the door to new levels of access to information. This included the perceived ‘right’ of anyone to access whatever they want online (usually for free) and unparalleled interpersonal connectivity at any time.

In many ways the practice of waiting (and possibly along with it, patience) became an old-fashioned concept. All of a sudden you didn’t have to wait for TV shows to go to air, to get to a phone to make a call, or to visit the shops to make a purchase. You can get it now, online.

Happy Days

During the economic “happy days” of the noughties (from 2000) jobs were plentiful, money was relatively easy to find, and a new influence was observed in the workplace — the emergence of distinct generational cohorts working together in unconventional ways. Along with this came different workplace relationships between these cohorts. These new relationships defied the previous linear career expectations that had been the norm for decades.

  • No longer were managers always older than their direct reports.
  • No longer did everyone simply accept the directives they were given.
  • No longer did employees remain at the same company to work their way up the career ladder.

Add to this mix the trend of so-called Generation Y (born 1980 to 1995 or thereabouts) and younger cohorts who truly expect – through no fault of their own – to step into a role that fits their own self-image and sense of ‘expectations’, rather than a role that matches their actual skill level.

It’s no wonder managers get confused about where the line is drawn and how, when (and even if) they should make a decision.

In some ways it can seem like managers don’t have a role any more. Or at best they should step back and let their team manage themselves.

After all, employees these days are all capable, competent, and self-directed individuals.

Aren’t they?

Not quite…

The Reality

At work people still:

  • Don’t know what they don’t know.
  • Need to be held accountable for their actions.
  • Need a clear line of communication.
  • Need to know exactly what their role is and how their work fits in with others.
  • Need to be guided by others with greater experience in life as well as on the job.
  • Need the opportunity to be motivated and successful.
  • Need to understand the limitations of their own knowledge.

Yes, managers still have a vital role to play. For both the organisation and their team.

This line of discussion doesn’t mean managers should regress to a draconian 19th century management style. The industrial era is long gone.

Time to Step Up

Now managers must step up and push the boundaries. Managers need to lead and manage simultaneously.

Modern managers need to feel the fear of uncertainty, and do it anyway. They can’t afford to be distracted by:

  • Relying on team consensus for all decisions.
  • Blurring the lines of accountability to avoid singling out poor performers.
  • Acting submissively (versus being assertive) in an effort to keep everyone happy.
  • Expecting a true democracy. Ultimately someone needs to make a decision.
  • Waiting for team members to realise the error of their ways.

As the manager, you must clearly set the direction and goals for your team.

You, as the manager, must proactively manage, coach and lead each team member towards achieving their individual goals.

No confusion.
No self-doubt.
No paralysis.
Decisions need to be made.

Let’s be honest. As a manager not every decision you make will be ‘right’. There is often ambiguity, a variety of expectations, the impact of timing, and interpersonal differences that you can never fully remove from the decision making process.

But that’s why you are the manager. Your team needs you.

Be proud of yourself. Take the responsibility. And take action.

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