February 2, 2009

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The Big Squeeze

Utah’s economy has long been The Little Engine That Could—merrily puffing alo...Read More

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Modern Manager

Today’s Bosses Must Be Authentic and Reliable

Pamela Ostermiller

February 2, 2009

Get Real. That’s what today’s workforce wants from its managers, says a consensus of human resources and recruitment experts. No more “yes men,” no more closed door meetings, no more lofty promises. “It’s not about being nicey-nicey or just giving employees what they want,” says Lora Lea Mock, founder and president of Professional Recruiters. “People want a true picture. They want transparency in all conversations. Good managers must help employees feel confident that when times are tough, they are in control.” In Mock’s 32 years as a recruiter, she has seen every type of management style. She says today’s work environment is different and requires a modern manager to work with employees who are motivated by a different set of priorities, such as flexibility. “People don’t stay with companies their entire life. They work to live, not live to work.” And when employees resign, there is most likely a problem with management. “People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses,” Mock says. “Dysfunction at the top spreads itself down through the organization.” Most problems begin when a manager has an inability to clearly articulate, says Kristen Cox, executive director of the Department of Workforce Services. “I can’t express enough how important it is to be able to communicate,” she says. “So much time and energy are wasted because of dishonesty, misinterpretation or assigning bad intentions.” Cox, who manages 2,100 staff members, adds that communication skills alone do not make a good manager, but the ability to use them to inspire and motivate. More importantly, you’ve got to have what she calls mental bandwidth. “Those who excel understand paradox and complexity, and have the ability to manage lots of projects and handle moving pieces. Some people have mental bandwidth, some don’t,” she says. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Mock says there is good news in this: most people find out before they have ambled too far along a career path. “You either have it or you don’t, and need to become a programmer or an engineer,” she says. “But, most early on can tell pretty well how they are going to fit.” Those who are born with personality traits and talent to lead must still develop additional skills in order to be stellar managers. “What makes a good manager today?” asks Jeff Herring, executive director of the Department of Human Resources “That is a million dollar question.” Herring has more than a decade of experience and manages about 22,000 employees from the governor’s office, yet says one key to success is to realize that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. “The best managers are always growing and learning. Read, take classes, ask questions,” Herring says. “We are always trying to increase the capacity of managers to manage and we do this by giving them workforce planning tools imperative to motivational training and development.” In addition to having an interest in learning, smart managers are humble. They understand the potential inherent in the people around them and the importance in recognizing it. “Empower your staff by asking them what they recommend,” says Herring. “The lone genius is not always successful. An effective manager listens. People make mistakes when they try to do too much themselves, when they try and hold onto doing instead of managing. You’ve got to trust your staff.” Cox says that even after years in public policy and government, she is still self-evaluating and finding out what she can do better, how to deal with strengths and weaknesses. “I think it comes down to being an authentic. I put my pants on like anyone else; I just have a different perspective and am in a different position,” she says. “You need to be open to alternatives and find a balance between being committed and passionate and having humility. It’s not a science, but an art form.”
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