Sitting in a glass box

Management is: Get it done, follow-up, discipline, planning, analysis, facts, facts, facts. It’s [getting] the right people in the room, kill the bureaucracy, all of these various things... ...Humility, openness, fairness and being authentic are most important – it's not about being the smartest person in the room or the hardest working person in the room. - Jamie Dimon, 2020

Sitting inside a glass box has certain kicks. I can do calls in private, talk as loud as I want and frivolously use the bigger table space and cabinets for stashing paperwork. But it takes some getting used to. Why? For most parts of my banking life, I've worked out of communal spaces in which senior directors sit out in the open and fraternise with the rest of everyone across the ranks. There weren't many physical boundaries. Everyone works out of a common row of desks or cluster of cubicles. When a director needs some stuff to be done, he/she just gets up, walks a few steps over to the analyst's table to talk.


In one of my previous transactions involving an airline company, the Chief Operating Officer actually sits openly in the geographical centre of the entire office, no walls, no barriers, just a table with a desktop computer and stacks of documents. When I asked them why they had done it this way, they said it was to ensure that the key person is easily accessible by everyone in the office - much like the control tower of an airport.


So it takes a bit of getting used to when I get to sit in a glass box.

An example of work cubicles during my banking days

While I don’t see this as a privilege, there is indeed a price for people who sit in a glass box. There are subtle ‘expectations’. Expectations on capability, responsibilitiy, and many more. People on the outside usually see those sitting inside glass boxes as 'senior management' regardless of whether they think so.


So it is along this train of thought that got me thinking: What makes management a good management?


Over the last couple of years, I've been observing, listening, reflecting and even experimenting through interactions with different people, in the process constantly asking myself - what makes an outstanding leader, how do people learn management skills and if business schools really impart any tangible (and usable) skills on this. After all, there are many academic modules covering organisational behaviour, strategy, international business, as well as many ideologies drawing references to notable thought leaders and practitioners: Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Jack Welch, Bob Iger and so on...


It is refreshing to read so much literature and draw a wide variety of insights from these accumulated experiences on what defines good leadership and management. But application in reality is much more difficult.

Since I started working, I have also had numerous first-hand experiences in 'receiving' and 'practising' management - both good and bad ones. Most of my previous stints involve elements of conflicting work styles and company cultures. I have seen and experienced how managers and colleagues try to adapt and assimilate these. Obviously, not all were successful. At times, I wonder if there are perfect solutions, and who decides whether the outcomes had been effective.


(1) Get it done.

Perhaps the most important principle is to deliver the goods. Results are basically everything: Topline and cashflow. Quantifiable metrics are not only tangible, they are surgical, honest and most of the time beyond contestation.


To contextualise this to military ops: The mission is everything. The spirit is: If it needs to be done, it will be done. And you'll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

尽管过程有多完美,最终还是得看结果
(2) It's not so much about ability, it’s about responsibility

I've seen too many managers try to impress, in different ways. They try to look the part, exert authority, flaunt their past experience or pedigree sometimes. The reality is that most people (especially employees) only care about ability to the extent it affects their bonuses or whether or not they will need to work overtime. Looking good is overrated. Responsibility is not about taking credit but mostly also about the taking the rap when shit hits the fan.


You will look stupid screwing up or when someone in your team screws up. But that's part of the job that no one tells you when you become a manager. It's not about taking credit for good performance but also 'taking credit' for the slip ups.


Responsibility also means developing the technical and personal aspects of the people around you. By helping those around you, you are indirectly relieving yourself of unnecessary management work freeing up more time for doing the more important things and in the process delivering the point above on getting the job done.


(3) Motivate rather than manage

The office environment is full of "Do this", "Do that". One of the things I like to ask after any meeting or conference call is: "what do you think?". Because no one, especially in the junior ranks, expects their opinion to be taken seriously. Most of them believe that it is not in their place to make decisions.


This mindset, if not managed well, can lead to prolonged apathy at the work place, overburdening managers with decision making, which may not always be the best judgement. This is also how good corporate culture gets destroyed. Employees at the workplace get increasingly disconnected because "no one listens to me any way."


 

I am genuinely interested in developing colleagues and staff - across all ranks. Money aside, there is no better satisfaction of seeing how someone goes out of his/her comfort zone to overcome their limitations. This can even be as simple as delivering a presentation, facilitating a conference call or even achieving a breakthrough in a seemingly impossible project.


It is also very encouraging to see managers get excited brainstorming on a new strategy, daring to experiment with possible solutions, not being afraid to try, and perhaps more importantly, not being afraid to fail or look bad.


After all, we are all about just getting the job done aren't we?

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