The Art of People Managing

The recession has brought to light the darkness of the narcissism, individualism, greed, avarice, depersonalisation, denial that has crippled many national economies. There developed a quiet suffocation of individuality, authenticity and accountability in many workplaces – most notably financial institutions and health services. Furthermore, the target-fixated mentality in many multi-nationals led to serious depersonalisation of employees and the emergence of an unprecedented level of bullying and passivity.

Typically, being effective is the ambition of those of us who work in business, health, education or simply in homes.  However, what is often not appreciated, by men in particular, is that being affective is an essential aspect of being effective.  The mind without affect is not mind at all.  Equally, the practice of a profession is not practice at all without heart.  The verb to ‘affect’ means to influence emotionally and the word ‘effect’ means to cause, to get a result.  In management practice these two verbs are inextricably linked; they are bedfellows that when used together have the potential to bring about powerful and enduring change.

A professional approach that is not affective in nature in that it does not encompass concern for each individual manager and employee or teacher and student or health professional and client can act like a dark force in the lives of those exposed to it.  Men have typically referred to affective qualities as the ‘soft’ aspect of management, but is it not ironic how ‘hard’ it is for men to embrace an affective approach in their professional lives.  There is no mystery to this reality, as males are channelled into believing that it is a weakness to show emotion.  The opposite is the case – it is a profound weakness (in the ‘defensive’ meaning of that word) not to be affective!  The irony of it all is that when professionals lead with both head and heart they themselves are far more balanced and effective and they create an environment where a sense of belonging is felt by their charges.

Where does the fear of being affective begin?  The reality is that the ability to perceive and express an affective experience is a fairly recent phenomenon.  There are still cultures in the world today that do not value and often punish the perception and expression of emotions.  In many workplaces such a taboo exists, as it does in many schools and health services.  Within families – and each family is a unique subcultural group – there can be a ban on emotional expression – more so for male children.  Children frequently get the messages: ‘Don’t feel what you are feeling’; ‘Don’t feel too deeply’; ‘Don’t be so intense’; ‘Feelings are dangerous’; ‘Feelings can lead to you being out of control’; ‘You are weak when you show feelings.’  The reality is that feelings don’t disappear because we are told not to have them.  Feelings creatively arise; they are there to give expression to needs or the reality of unmet needs.  When children or adults repress or suppress their feelings in a creative and protective response to the dangers of emotional expression, these buried feelings will find substitute means of expression – substance addictions or illness or emotional outbursts that appear to happen ‘out of the blue.’

One of the great crimes in the area of management was the development of human resources departments.  The word resource took the ‘person and heart’ out of managing employees and reflected the prevailing attitude in many companies of ‘profit before people.’  It comes as no surprise that complaints of bullying are commonplace in the workplace and that many managers believe that the way to motivate employees is to bully them.  The devastating effects of bullying on children, not only by their peers, but by significant adults in their lives, are well documented.  The effects on employees is also becoming more and more documented and many work organisations are facing legal challenges to allowing a bullying type of management operate within the workplace.

It is critical that work organisations learn to appreciate that it is not human resources but individual persons they employ, not only for the welfare of their employees, the creation of a wellness ethos, but also to improve effectiveness, efficiency and productivity.  An employee who is respected, individualised and enabled is far more motivated and committed than the employee who complains of anonymity or being bullied.  It may appear simple to say, but a happy and contented employee is a much greater asset to any organisation than an employee who harbours aggressive or passive-aggressive resentment.

It is a responsibility of organisations and individual managers to ensure that the quality of management is of a nature that enhances relationship and enables employees.  However, such maturity is only possible when individual managers and supervisors possess a high level of personal maturity.  Professional effectiveness is largely determined by personal effectiveness.  However, it has not been the policy of work organisations and employers to evaluate the interiority of their managers.  This is a serious oversight because the manager who carries considerable emotional baggage into the workplace can wreak havoc with relationships and create a dark work ethos.  Just as parents and teachers, who are peoplemanagers of homes and classrooms, respectively, are the architects of their domains, so, too, are managers the architects of staff morale.  Professional qualifications, gender, age, status and wealth are no indices of emotional and social maturity and it is incumbent on employers and managers themselves that they reflect on their own level of personal maturity in order to be more effective in peoplemanaging.  It is equally important that work organisations provide the opportunities for their managers to examine how they are within themselves and with others.

Peoplemanaging is not then just about management strategies and techniques; such approaches are not fully effective unless they spring from the manager’s solid and wise interiority.  As suggested above, a very definite responsibility of managers is to develop an understanding of what happens within themselves and between themselves and employees.  Managers effectively need training to understand their own inner feelings as well as their inner and outer defensive responses and from that position of understanding their own responses can better understand and respond maturely to the challenging behaviours of employees.  It is with the defensive responses of self and employees that managers are especially challenged.  The understanding of these defensive behaviours (for example, verbal aggression, non-co-operation, irresponsibility, passivity, poor motivation, stress reactions) is critical to effective management.  The task of the manager is to get behind his own and employees’ defensive reactions and focus on what lies hidden.  More often than not, what are being masked are issues of low self-esteem, suppression of emotions, difficult staff relationships and depersonalisation of employees. In the understanding of challenging behaviours there is no suggestion here to dilute the nature and the impact on self and others of difficult human responses.  On the contrary, it is only by speaking the truth that real progress can be made in determining the whys and wherefores of human reactions.  Nevertheless, the interpretations shown need to be non-judgemental and empathic; otherwise understanding would be threatening rather than enlightening in nature.

It is the responsibility of each of us to reflect on how we are within ourselves and how we relate to others.  For those in positions of leadership and management, the need to reflect daily is even more urgent since the influence wielded can have lasting effects on the well-being and potential of others and on organisational effectiveness.  It is vital that work organisations, regardless of size, provide the structures and positive climate for this review process and engage in examining its own organisational processes.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. The Mature Manager is relevant to this article.