Besides learning the technical skills needed to effectively manage others, would-be managers must come to understand the psychological affect that they, as managers, will have on their employees . . . and how that changed
perception will affect them.
They must come to accept that at a deep, visceral level, managers are not seen as normal human beings and therefore shouldn’t
expect their employees to treat them as such. The reasons for this
are complex and are rooted in our very nature as human beings.
PRETTY INTIMIDATING, ISN’T IT?
Consider this important fact. As infants, we are about the most
helpless of all newborns. Unlike a baby fish that can swim and
provide for its own nutritional needs from birth, we are dependent for nutrition on adults.
So, we must ask: having lived for many years in a state of
total inferiority, total inadequacy, and being totally dependent on
friendly giants—as a matter of life-or-death—do we ever get completely over it?
Or might we retain, deep in our unconscious minds, some vague
memory-sense of that early condition so that, when we must interact with parents—or parental figures, like our bosses—we again feel
some of that sense of smallness and even fearfulness?
So, when your supervisor, who is probably a perfectly
decent, normal human being, asks you to “please step into my
office,” something happens. We don’t simply accept his invitation as one normal adult talking to another. An element of
anxiety creeps in.
MANAGER = POWER
Because of this biologically programmed interaction, employ-
ees always have a special regard for their supervisors, and it
isn’t always positive. Because they are perceived as powerful
they are watched very closely, listened to more carefully, their
motives constantly second-guessed. At an unconscious level, we
are thinking, “those managers are dangerous and we have to be
alert around them.”
To some extent, as a supervisor, you do have some realistic
power over your employees, since you can determine their work
assignments, conduct their performance assessments, and could
significantly affect their careers. But, because of the underlying
psychological realities, your power
tends to be vastly exaggerated.
This exaggerated concern
about your power as manager has serious consequences.
On the positive side
is the fact that if you are
enthusiastic, show that
quality really matters, work hard, demonstrate belief in your orga-
nization’s high ideals and generally show a strong work ethic, you
will be miles ahead towards building an effective work force. Your
work ethic will be adopted by your employees.
On the negative side is the fact that every behavior of yours is
observed and studied and likely to be over-interpreted, and not
always desirably. For example, if you tend to have lunch with the
same people every day you will be seen as “playing favorites,”
even if you are scrupulously fair. If you take off early, or take an
extra long lunch break, and your employees do not know that it is
for a good, solid business-related purpose, they will conclude that
goofing off is OK. You are the model and set the standards, and
how you behave will become your employees’ norms.
It isn’t easy to accept the fact that employees, after you have
been promoted into a management position, will start to see you
differently. If you fail to accept the new way they look at you,
you will become frustrated and unhappy, and wonder if being
promoted into management was the right move for you. But if
you understand about how you will be perceived and are prepared to accept that difference, you will have gone a long way
towards fitting into your new role and becoming an effective—
and comfortable—new manager.
Besides his clinical work and university teaching, Martin
Seidenfeld, Ph.D., provides consulting to organizations on
management issues and on managing organizational stress.
The hidden hurdles manager’s must face
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