Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Oct 19, 2009

Ask a Manager: Your Questions Answered

The Finishing School welcomes you to our faculty mixer, where we have the pleasure of introducing a newcomer from the corner office, our Don Draper in residence, who will help provide some balance to the dialogue.  We do not say debate, because we are not in conflict with our Resident Manager.  We know he brings a fresh point of view to the topics we discuss, and we look forward to having him answer your questions about life in management and staff relations that we have not been able to address.

It is my pleasure to introduce Dick Whitman to the student body, and to invite him to tell you more about himself:

A Riff on Management
When the Finishing School came to me and asked me to represent the “Management” point of view, I had a very mixed reaction. The word “shudder” comes to mind…ok, let me explain.

I have long admired these witty observations of life in the workplace. The only thing is, one can’t help but notice there is typically a general theme of “management bad, oppressed worker bees good”.

And while I’ve often laughed along, I am realizing just now that I’ve always thought of them as representing something outside of the world that I occupy. I have been managing people in one form or another for more than half of my life, and I have always loved it. I love it because it gives me satisfaction to build a strong team and to transform an organization through motivation and leadership. Most of all, I love it because it sometimes gives me the opportunity to take an individual with some hidden potential that maybe only I can see, and with a little investment of my time and emotion, to pull that potential out of hiding.

When I think about the changes I’ve seen in certain people who have been willing to trust and listen to me over the years, and who have in turn made the investment in themselves to grow, it makes me feel true pride.

Growing up, I was supposed to be something IMPORTANT in life. (Translation: doctor…or, in the interest of variety, lawyer is ok too) Unfortunately, the most important thing I learned in college was that I couldn’t sit still long enough to make it through 4-6 more years of it. So…I took a different path. On this other path, sadly, I am not saving lives and I am not fighting for justice (and/or gobs of money), but when I feel like I’ve made a difference in an employee’s professional development, I feel pretty damn good. When I feel like I’ve turned a collection of dysfunctional, disjointed coworkers into an effective – dare I say kick-ASS? -- team, then I am truly able to slay those emotional dragons and feel like I’ve done something important.
(Oh yeah. That’s what you’re dealing with here.)

Now think about that guy I just described, and picture how he is going to react to being asked to represent “the management view” in this context.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, “(Self….) is that how they see me? As management?! Egad.  I’m Bill Lumbergh from Office Space!” Am I really associated with that one-dimensional, Dilbertesque view of “the boss”?
 More importantly, I don’t know if I am qualified to represent all of "management." This is not to say that I am trying to separate myself from management as a whole.   But that is an interesting paradox in itself: in this context, I am either one of the dirty ignorant bastids that “tells us what to do and takes away our jobs”, or….OR… I’m the exception to the rule, the sympathizer, the traitor to my brethren, the Uncle Tom.

But what the hell, I’ve never felt like I could fit everything into a neatly-defined little package (Ken Blanchard be damned). I’m still honored to have the chance to write for this fine publication, and I am sure I will love it. And I applaud my friends for looking to balance out the commentary with a management view. I will certainly try my best to be fair and candid in that context.

Mr. Whitman is now available to take your questions.  Please ask nicely, or we will not pass them along.  The Finishing School will post Mr. Whitman's replies and reflections "on a going forward basis."  That is not a phrase Dick would use, by the way.

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