The manager's role in 2022: a leader, not an expert
ARTICLE BY LOÏC BLANDEL
Project manager, Proaction International
Many managers in business simply fail to understand their role. Does a manager need to know how to perform his employees’ tasks to be relevant? Should he make decisions alone based on his knowledge? Is it his role to provide his opinion on a subject requiring expertise?
You probably think that these questions' answers depend on the perspective of certain areas or situations. But in most cases, we could respond with a resounding “no.”
However, during my numerous interventions in companies, I have observed an entirely different reality: many managers find it very difficult to accept their lack of knowledge of subjects mastered by their employees when ignorance can actually represent an opportunity for them. Here is why.
The role of managers
One of the main roles of managers in a company is to "steer" the activities of their collaborators. They must also make the best possible use of their teams' knowledge and ensure that team members develop continuously through self-training, cross-training, or group training. Their role will also be to make decisions, when necessary, using the knowledge and expertise of all their employees.
However, what I observe in the field is a management system based on the simple principle of an ancestral subordination relationship and, therefore, technical and intellectual authority. This paradigm, which we might consider antiquated, is still very much alive and demonstrates the inconsistency between the desire to empower individuals and the need for superiority that many "managers" feel the need to exercise by being controlling in their management.
The manager’s role does not in any way require the mastery of all the tasks performed by their teams; and by mastery, this obviously means knowing how to do things for the employee. Yet too many managers believe that knowing better than their teams will allow them to establish and build a certain legitimacy in their eyes.
This belief stems from a lack of understanding of the roles and responsibilities of managers vis-à-vis their teams and of teams vis-à-vis their manager, thereby creating a gray area in which neither the manager nor the employee knows where to place themselves.
In particular, this problem arises because the manager's role is rarely considered a job in its own right. The ambiguity of this role leads many front-line managers to hide behind their technical expertise to establish their legitimacy and to try to conceal their ignorance of a subject. This is not due to a lack of confidence in their teams but simply to a lack of confidence in their managerial responsibilities.
Ignorance: accepting that you don't know everything
Don't you think a manager's ignorance could be a real driver for building and improving the team's knowledge as a performance unit, creating value for the company? Could we not view ignorance as an opportunity for managers to strengthen their position with their teams?
To empower teams, shouldn't the manager use his ignorance to energize exchanges and push the various stakeholders to master their roles and take responsibility within the group? I find this approach appealing because managers can focus on what they are paid for, i.e., to lead, direct and energize their teams to make them as efficient as possible.
They will also be able to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance the value of each team member by using their respective knowledge by challenging them without preconceived ideas on a technical approach to problem-solving.
To reduce the gray areas in the relationship between managers and their employees and to position managers where they can play their proactive management role with confidence, companies must learn to define the roles and responsibilities of each person very precisely, both at the company level itself, via job descriptions for example, and also at the start of a relationship between managers and their teams, to avoid viewing "ignorance" as something negative.
Moreover, it is the company's responsibility to accompany the people they have appointed as managers; by accompanying, I mean training them in their new role. But shouldn't we also convince them to accept that they do not know everything: accept ignorance to perform better as a group?
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