The Most Difficult Thing About Managing Others Is…

Bill Cottringer

“Mis-management of others is usually a symptom of mismanaging yourself.” ~An older, wiser, unnamed manager of sorts.

Managing others in today’s work environment is no simple or easy task for the weak-minded. It involves good management of many moving parts and it is often like trying to hit a bull’s-eye with a paper arrow and a wobbly rubber bow while running uphill fast. By now it is commonly agreed that good management of others starts with good self-management. A leader’s or manager’s self-management is always confronted with one very huge obstacle though. This is how to deal with the wide gap between the manager-leader’s thriving mentality and wide open global viewpoint (from years of experience) and the employee’s survival mentality and narrow, personal viewpoint (from lack of instructions or proper training and limited experience). The challenge is how to approach trying to close this gap to get results the organization needs. There are only four ways to be successful in closing this gap and not following these ways will just about guarantee failure. But it is the manager’s approach to doing these four things that has to be very flexible and fit each new situation or that will also bring failure and even a widening of the gap.

• Simplify

Today everyone is confronted with way too much information, too many things to do and too little time to digest it all. We are all struggling to get to the land of simple just on the other side of the sea of complexity and the trick is to not stop short and think you really do have the simple solution to an ornery problem. It takes tenacious perseverance, in two words. Everything we say or do has to be simplified down to the most fundamental basics that we can never assume are known or clear enough as below. Most projects assigned to workers are complex in nature with many moving parts and dependent on other’s input and decisions for results. Complex problems are best solved by breaking them down into simpler tasks to avoid getting overwhelmed by too big of a picture. “Inch by inch life is a cinch, but yard by yard it is very hard.”

• Clarify

Managers have usually forgotten much more than employees will ever learn but this wealth of knowledge often includes irrelevant, complex details which obscure the heart of something and hides understanding. Not to mention making communication difficult. Managers who acknowledge this knowledge and ability gap and have the patience to close it step by step, by clarifying all possible confusion and miscommunication, succeed more than ones who don’t. But make no mistake simplifying and clarifying are challenges of a lifetime for even the smartest among us, not something you can learn in a week’s training seminar or even in an MBA program. Solving a complex problem often requires peeling back the layers until your get to a point everyone agrees. That is usually the best starting point from which to move forward.

• Manage time well

“I am overwhelmed and can’t breathe; there are just too many things to do and too little time to do them” is a common complaint at today’s workplace. There are a couple of things wrong with this perspective. First of all nobody has enough time but everyone has all there is. Secondly, if you have enough time to complain, you are wasting it on doing the wrong thing which would be doing something productive with your time. And thirdly, having more time requires a drastic change in perspectives about time to get twice as much done in half the time. You can do this in two main ways: (a) view time as more psychological and fluid to use in a slower, more relaxed way, rather than it using you by its mechanical measurement in a frenzied rush. Get rid of the clocks, cell phones, and watches when you need to get things done. And finally, realize that it is a common mistake to over-estimate what you can do in an hour but under-estimate what you can do in a day.

• Follow-up and Follow-through until it gets done.

It is often the 12th hour effort that is the only thing that gets results, meaning that without that relentless perseverance towards the end of an eleven hour day, the whole day gets wasted. Sometimes resistive employees delay getting things done right and on time, leaving the manager with being caught between a rock and a hard place—rescuing the employee and doing it themselves, or letting it go altogether and chance the consequences. It is not the manager’s duty or obligation to rescue or otherwise save an irresponsible employee who doesn’t have the needed sense of urgency to ask enough questions and stick with something until it does get done. The only thing for a manager to do in this type of situation is to refuse to let the employee off the hook by, imposing the “tough love” of accountability, sometimes over and over again.

Now here is the real kicker: The learning process of going from survival mentality to a thriving one hits managers at two levels. You learn the first one being successful yourself. The second one comes in a challenge to help others be successful, by applying what you know to be so to help them be so. And so the key becomes in managing your own flexibility to approach doing these four things more frequently with your employees. Success is just around the next corner you are most likely to give up on getting to yourself!

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President of Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security Patrol, Inc. in Bellevue, WA., along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence), The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree), and Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers) Reality Repair Rx (PublishAmerica), and Reality Repair (Global Vision Press) Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067, 425-454-5011 or or