Leadership Perceptions ~ Changing the Record

I read an interesting article last week that started me thinking about the messages we send out to our children concerning what it is to be a manager.  I was thinking too, or perhaps worrying, that in spite of herculean efforts on the part of many ‘experts’ to change the perception of what it takes to be a good manager, we seem to be failing to convey a more enlightened message than the one that prevailed at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

The Article, written by Hal Gregersen for Businessweek.com is entitled, What Do Managers Do at Work? 

Gregerson and his colleague, Warner Woodworth, collected data from one thousand children between the ages of five and eighteen years old.  When asked, “What do Managers do at work?” the responses looked like this:

55%: Managers control people’s actions at work, making sure they do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.

39%: Managers fix problems at work, any problem (and more often than not, they fix every problem). 

6%: Managers develop people’s capabilities by coaching them to become better at what they do.

Less than 1%: Managers understand and serve customer needs. 

Less than 1%: Managers make a profit for their companies.”

While I don’t think the sample size here can wholly represent the perceptions of all children in the five to eighteen age range, it appears that among these 1,000 children, the perception of management remains largely entrenched in a command and control model.  And that is worrying enough to talk about.

For me, it begs the question: What must we do to change the record… to make sure upcoming generations of organizational leaders have the opportunity to think differently about the work of leadership and management long before they even get their first job?

It’s a big question.  I don’t have the answer…just a thought for now, which is this:

Changing the way we talk about our own work experience might provide an opportunity for the next generation to think about work differently, not necessarily how it is, but how it could be or how we want it to be. ~ If we think young people are not listening when we talk about our jobs, our bosses, or our employees, we would be wrong.   That means  our experiences around leadership, control, problem solving, idea-generation, diversity etc. are, almost always passed along and absorbed.

So, here are a few questions to ask ourselves that might help us to think differently; to change the conversation; and perhaps too, the perception of what a good manager does at work:

  • What kind of boss would I like my daughter or son to be?
  • In what way can I champion a positive and collaborative leadership model?
  • Why is it important?
  • What opportunities might I provide now that will help my children develop 21st Century leadership skill?
  • What kind of role model am I?

Alan Keightley said, “Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t’ have to experience the world in the way they have been told to”

With that in mind, I assert that our children do not have to experience organizational life in the same way so many of us do, or have done.  But, for a new vision of leadership to fully emerge, we have to start by breaking old patterns…and changing the record.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?



Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Vision, Management, NOWLeadership

15 responses to “Leadership Perceptions ~ Changing the Record

  1. Good post, Gwyn. Children learn many lessons from us, some unintentionally. What we project, how we talk about ourselves and our work makes a huge and lasting impact on them and their work lives.

    As parents, leaders and role models we must remember that someone is always watching us and always learning from us. We do our children the worst disservice by bringing home only the negatives of our world experience.

    And as your question posits, we should be making and seeking out opportunities for them to learn about the real world and leadership while we provide their best safety net.

  2. I would not have thought about this without reading your post. There is a great program called Odyssey of the Mind for children. It gives the children a chance to work in an environment where they will be managing sometimes. They also have to use their communication skills to work together to accomplish a task.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Thank you suggesting this program. I had not heard of it so I have learned something today (which makes for a good day :). I particularly like the focus of the Odyssey of the Mind program on creativity in problem solving. I believe we will need more and more of this in years to come. For those interested in learning more about this program, here is a link: http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/learn_more.php

  3. Nice job Steve! It’s a great article and intriguing thought process. I’ve always thought that managers deal with stuff that doesn’t talk back whereas leaders deal with people who do. Yet, the 55% of children who said managers “control people” tells me we might have a much bigger challenge ahead in changing that perception. Wow!

  4. Alex Jones

    Children can only bring to the table their own life experience, so manager to them is often based on parent, teacher and coach who all are command and control types.

    I run my own business, as I expand so I will begin to recruit teams. It is my intention to keep the management structures at a minimum with one overall “manager” backed by team leaders. Corporates love their management structures and become top heavy, which is a massive expense on the business.

    Command and control sucks. A team should be able to function as one with a team leader who can keep the focus and make sure all the team has what they need to do the job.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Alex ~ While I agree that command and control is not, in these times, the management tool of choice, there are times when an authoritative approach is required. The challenge is to use it at the right time, for the right reason…therein lies the rub! 🙂

  5. Dear Gwyn – Learning through the eyes of children is such a delight. Thank you for sharing those eyes. One of our mentors at 3Plus International’s MiniMentoring event quoted her daughter’s explanation of what her Mom does at work. “My Mom is a boss. She tells people what to do and yells at them when they don’t listen to her. Just like at home.”

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Dear Anne ~ Thank you for giving me my first laugh of the day. It reminds me too, that although children might see and experience ‘bosses’ in that, ahem, authoritative way, we eventually grow up having hopefully had opportunity to widen the lens we look through.

  6. I have done some research which highlights the issue between the words associated with “management” and “leadership” where management is akin to bad cop and leadership is good cop. The language used in articles, books, media, adverts etc, by everyone including HR, leaders, academics, business people etc is, when it comes to management, this is portrayed through language as controlling and motivating and getting things done. It is fairly humdrum stuff. Also the connotations associated with “management” can sometimes be fairly negative – so for example, there are management courses for dealing with problem employees, sorting out conflict etc

    Ever seen a leadership course “dealing with problem employees”?

    Of course not! Leadership is too exulted, considered as “inspirational” (note to self – when do you ever see management and inspiration in the same sentence) and frankly too over rated.

    We need to stop dividing up the management and leadership conundrum and ensure that today’s managers ARE leaders as well as managers. Ensure the language used for leaders crosses over to managers and stop driving a wedge between the two. In today’s economy I want Managers who can demonstrate Leadership qualities from the start. This language is positive (hopefully with the crossover from leadership words to management!) and the kids will get a better message……!

    Management should be equally visionary, inspiring, uplifting, inclusive, leading, and enthusiastic as leadership. It is down to us to associate it with this.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Tim ~ I agree that we seem to spend way too much time talking about managers versus leaders. To me, leadership and management are both functions within the overall scope of leadership. Both are necessary functions but no one person *just* manages and no one person *just* leads.
      Thank you for bringing that to the discussion and for taking the time to comment.

  7. Hi Gwyn and thank you for your posting, which has sparked such an interesting thread. I have just discovered your blog and will certainly be coming back often!

  8. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was
    good. I do not know who you are but certainly you are going
    to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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