My dad spent most of his years in some kind of management level position, though the terminology wasn’t always that. He spent 23 years as a sergeant at different levels, and another 22 years in management or exempt level positions at Xerox. Over the years, my dad spoke of different management techniques, and though we didn’t always have the same thoughts, I recognized that each of us had a way of connecting with people on the same level.

Dad - Vietnam Day

If people are paying attention, the military will teach pretty good management skills. The military is usually known for discipline; someone speaks, everyone below listens. In many cases, that’s pretty much how it goes.

In Owen Harare’s book The Leadership Principles of Colin Powell, he spoke of how Powell used to allow enlisted men, as well as other officers under his command, to come into his office to speak to him man to man. He would always take them to a round table so that they could sit as equals, rather than him having the superior position.

Dad used to do something along those same lines; instead of having men come to his office in the military, he used to go see them and talk to them in their own space. In his mind, he came up as they had, enlisting at age 17 and earning his stripes step by step.

Later on, as a manager, he used to bring people into his office because that would be the only place where he could talk to people one on one; most business offices don’t usually lend themselves well to speaking to someone one on one in the open.

For me, I used to, and still do in certain consulting venues, either bring someone into my office or, if it was possible, actually have that person join me in a walk outside, around the facility. Walking is used either to calm someone down who might be in an agitated state for some reason, or when I or they just wanted to talk and didn’t feel comfortable speaking in the office.

One thing a manager should do is be in tune with the situations at hand and know how to change up from time to time. In central New York, walking around the outside of a building in the winter might not be the smartest thing in the world to do, but it will definitely ease tensions fairly quickly.

Dad&Me01

Dad used to say that good managers earned the respect of their employees by example, not by words. To that degree, Dad was always the first one at work, whether it was in the military or at Xerox, and he was always the last one to leave. In 26 years in the military, he never took a vacation, and never missed a day of work. He never took a break, only started to eat a lunch when he developed some medical problems and was told he had to, and finally started taking some time off when other health issues finally forced it on him.

I agreed with him on the philosophy of working to earn the respect of my employees. I did some of the things my dad did, and yet still did some things differently.

I didn’t take my first vacation until I got married, when I took a week off. In 18 years of working for someone else, I only missed two days by being sick. I never took a break, rarely ate lunch, and though I wasn’t often the first one in the office, I was usually the last one to leave.

However, times changed, and I began to realize that there were reasons for things like breaks, lunch, and vacation. A person might be able to concentrate fine for 8 straight hours, 40 straight working hours, or even six months of working hours. But there comes a time where every person needs to take some time for themselves to recharge.

The job is just that; a job. It’s not your life; that’s what families and friends are for. You can’t grow if the job is the only thing you do, 24/7.

Physically, it’s unhealthy. I developed a few health issues as I started getting a little older. No one can sit at their work desk for that many hours week after week, month after month, year after year, with only 2 days away from it, without finally needing to take a breath. Don’t ever feel guilty for taking breaks you’re allowed during the day; eat something for lunch to keep your strength up; take some vacation from time to time.

It all caught up with Dad eventually also. He started getting colds more often as he got older. Then he hurt his back and would miss weeks at a time. That’s when it paid to be exempt, and to be the one who created the system the entire corporation used for customer service.

One final thing Dad used to say was that each position level should view every other as the enemy at times. His philosophy was that every person had their own agenda, and would be ready to step over you or go through you in order to achieve whatever their purpose might be.

This might be understandable coming from someone who spent a significant part of their life in the military, and initially I dismissed it, but then I gave it some thought and I understood where he was coming from.

In today’s world, job security is a luxury, not a reality. Companies kill jobs to make profit; they will move jobs out of the country or out of a state to find cheaper labor. They will downsize in the interest of saving money, yet get rid of long time employees with higher salaries for younger, less expensive employees with less experience.

me college graduation day

A manager will sometimes give a person a marginal evaluation, not because they actually believe it but because they’re trying to get back at an employee for a recent transgression, or because company policy dictates that only so many employees can attain a certain rank in order to keep the percentage of budgeted raises at the proper level.

In the long run, I don’t believe viewing anyone as my enemy works for me. I don’t like the idea of viewing people as adversaries on a constant basis.

However, I have always stated that everyone needs to acknowledge that, except on very rare occasions, people you work with are not really your friends. It’s easy to fall into the trap; after all, you spend most of your day with these people, most of your waking hours with these people, and though you can’t necessarily say you’re spending intimate time with them, I have seen employees share things with each other that they never share with their loved ones.

Office gossip is usually based on something that someone divulged to another employee in what I call a weak moment, because people tend to let their guard down at work when they should know better. If most people viewed the workplace for what it is, just a place where you go to do a certain job or profession, earn your money and possibly move up the ladder, or as a stepping stone to greater things in the future, and then leave the job at the job when you leave to go home, there would be fewer problems at work, less hurt feelings, less misunderstood intentions, and a much calmer working environment.

I will agree with Dad on this main point; every person has their own agenda. Even if your intentions are to better the company, how you get there may be different than how someone else wishes to get there, and sometimes another person might go to extremes in order to push their schedule through.

Overall, the most important aspect of good management is in thinking about how to be a good manager. There are many different philosophies that people espouse to, and most of them are pretty good. Each person finds their own words to express themselves, based on their experiences.

The proof is in how people respond to you as to whether you’re on the right track or not. People responded to Dad positively; he was a good sergeant, and he was a good manager, and he was a good person. I knew that based on what people told me about him when he wasn’t around, and how I saw people interact with him during the course of his working day from time to time. However he viewed the people he worked with, it seemed to work.

I think I learned from a real pro. 🙂
 

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