Being a woman myself, I say this with some regret. However, I do realise that sometimes we do not have the right temperament to lead people, and I am one of the biggest offenders.
The months I spent managing Alex Motors are a case in point. Dealing with the demands of around 20 staff members was a constant strain; it drained me physically and emotionally.
I am happy to admit that I am not management material. My absolute limit would be perhaps supervising five people, but to be honest I am most content when I only work to the limits of my own incompetence.
The staff at Alex Motors might have considered me a humane and benevolent manager, but most of the times I was weak and could not offer them the strength of leadership they needed; I stood shoulder to shoulder with them, leading from the flanks rather than the command position. My biggest fault was getting my emotions tangled in the employee’s problems, applying my own reasoning to these problems and getting exasperated when their behaviour came short and did not measure up to my principles.
In effect I placed an unnecessary burden on myself; I tried to manage and correct people’s lives for them when it was only necessary to deal with their working performance.
By the same token, I did not succeed in detaching myself emotionally from the working environment, I was troubled by the staff’s mistakes and shortcomings, because I judged them by my own standards. I also could not handle crisis, and flew of f the handle at the first sign of trouble or mishap. In short I was a reactionary and emotional leader, not at all a calm and collected trouble-shooter.
Today I was on the receiving end of the exact same type of behaviour. My days as a manager are long passed, and I am happy now to be a simple employee, one of many pegs in a giant wheel, doing a singularly unspectacular job.
Admittedly, the query I raised with management today was not of great importance. It was a whinge, basically pointing out a minor hitch in planning the allocation of break time for the agents on the floor. What I did not expect was the vehement reaction I got. The answer was simply that the planning was not perfect, and we the employees should take the initiative and fix things amongst ourselves.
I am afraid that this type of argument does appease me. These people work so hard to elevate themselves into positions of responsibility, but once they get there they try to wash their hands off the very same duties they are required to perform. I am tired of this policy of shifting responsibility downwards. I am sitting here at the bottom of the food chain, the buck stops with me, when I bungle up there is nobody to squirm or hide behind; I am simply instructed to make a statement explaining myself. Furthermore, my mistakes will directly influence my performance bonus. Meanwhile the people supervising and evaluating me, keep making the same mistakes over and over again; they mess up working schedules, shift plans, break allocations and pay cheques, and we here at the bottom are supposed to grin and bear it, no we should even take the initiative to correct their mistakes.
All these thoughts went through my head, but of course there was no way I could escape with my skin intact had I given voice to them.
I simply pointed out to the duty “manager” that even small inconsistencies should be communicated to admin, because otherwise they will be totally out of touch with the working procedures and problems on the floor. I added that there were already some people on the floor who feel that admin has no clue anymore about the actual operations here.
When I finished my sentence, the woman in question jumped up as if bitten by snake, made a snap decision of rescheduling my break, crossing out the previous scheduling for the day and arbitrarily putting in a new one, then she stormed out towards who knows where.
I was shocked at receiving this reaction, but on further reflection I realised that I was not a stranger to it. Here was another reactionary manger flying off the handle for no reason at all, when it would have sufficed if she just said: Thanks for bringing this to our attention, I will forward it on to the relevant parties.
People in positions have to realise that most of their work will be fielding questions and dealing with staff. We are human too, occasionally there will be complaints and whinges, and sometimes people will give substandard performances or not perform at all. However, it does not serve the organisation at all if the leaders jump into the fray and get themselves involved. No general jumps into battle to save one of his soldiers. A leader has to stay in control, keep a cool head at all times. Yes, it is not easy to deal with the constant flow of complaints, whinges and failures of your people, but unfortunately it comes with the property and if you can’t take the heat then stay out of the kitchen.
Leadership is an art and a discipline, it is a skill that can be honed with experience and training. However, I get the feeling that men are more capable of perfecting it than women. Women take ownership, while men take responsibility. And taking ownership is by far the more painful route to management; it implies deeper personal involvement and opens a person up to disappointment. Taking responsibility on the other hand is a more sober approach, since it excludes or limits the emotional involvement.
Taking responsibility can be done with the cool reasoning of the head, while taking ownership is a personal cruisade and a battle of the heart.
Having said that, I still believe that women can make good managers with the correct training and discipline, and if they can learn to put aside emotions and motherly instincts, but I also know that neither myself nor my duty manager today can quite cut it.