Managing Yourself and Managing Relationships: The Key to Management Success

Understanding the differences between management and leadership can help you be more effective as a team, department, or company leader, but when it comes to management there are a few subtleties that have outsized impact: managing yourself and managing relationships. Forget the idea of managing people. The rest will fall into place.

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Management, by the very definition of the word, has to do with supervision, administration, and control of resources. There are all kinds of resources in an organization that need managing:

  • Processes
  • Decisions
  • Budgets
  • Products
  • Programs
  • Knowledge
  • Time

Notice that ‘people’ is not included in the list. “Human Resources” is an unfortunate naming for a field that has evolved well past the management of the workforce, but the legacy of thinking remains. This distinction is important and warrants an explicit articulation: humans are not resources to be managed.

A Quick History Lesson

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A scene from ‘I love Lucy’.

If you were a manager working in an organization at the turn of the 20th century, you probably were trying to manage people directly. Industrialization brought the workforce into factories, and folks like Frederick Winslow Taylor saw human labor as a resource to be ruthlessly optimized for maximum efficiency. Workers were prescribed what to do in excruciating detail, repetitive tasks completed in the exact same way hundreds of times a day, thousands of times a week. In optimizing for the process, the person became a cog in the machine, a means to an end. Even during his lifetime, Taylor’s work was criticized for being deeply dehumanizing, but remnants of it have found their way into newer management theories, which is probably why still mistakenly think we can or should be managing people.

Check Your Motivations

What motivates you at work? What do you believe motivates others? Do you view people as inherently lazy or do you see them as intrinsically motivated by self-actualization, autonomy, and creative fulfillment? Your approach to management will be influenced by your view of human nature, capacity, and motivation.

If you assume that workers are lazy, unmotivated, and work only because they need money, your management style is likely to be hands on and incorporate things like reward and punishment systems. You will tend towards control, close supervision, and hands-on management. This worldview is similar to Taylor’s, who saw workers as nothing more than automatons to be optimized and whose movements must be preordained by a higher intelligence.

If you see workers as intrinsically motivated to work not only for money but for enjoyment, and who seek the rewards of self-actualization, then your management style will tend towards personal connections and worker autonomy. Your approach may also focus on cultivating worker creativity, insight, and meaning.

Reflect on your own approach to management: do you need to know and approve of all the work that is going on, to the smallest detail? Do you seek control? Are you frustrated when people don’t do what you would have done? Management styles are reflections of worldviews — if your tendency is to try and manage people directly, check-in with your fundamental beliefs about the nature of human beings. You may find that you are operating from a place of negativity, distrust, and disillusionment.

Self and Social

So, back to managing things and managing people. On the people side of the equation there are two things to focus on: managing yourself and managing relationships. In “Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee illustrate this in a 2x2 matrix:

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Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

Organizations are essentially constellations of people navigating and calibrating relationships with each other in order to achieve a goal or outcome. Understanding and being sensitive to the relational nature of work is what separates good managers from great managers.

Tying this back to the list of resources that can be managed, and noting that people create most of those resources, you can start to see a loosely coupled leverage point between things, and relationships with people who create those things. In some ways, things can be seen as extensions of relationships: remembering that there are usually people at the other end of a tedious form or lengthy procurement process (who are invested in the data or the compliance review) will help to contextualize irritations, understand intent, and ultimately unblock frustrating challenges (big thanks to Andy Polaine for explicating this point).

Things, Relationships, and Yourself: Keys to Management Success

Articulating management into three streams: things, yourself, and relationships, can give you better visibility into where to spend management energy for maximum impact and effectiveness.

Things: the artifacts, resources, and systems created by people in order to achieve a purpose or outcome.

Yourself: self-awareness and self-management is a practice, one that you can incorporate into your daily work and personal life

Relationships: organizations are made of people. How you show up in these relationships, and how you manage them, will ultimately determine your success.

By focusing on these three streams you’ll loosen the tendency to try and manage people, and find more fruitful, joyful, effective ways of managing.

Curiosity and presence. Coach to unconventional leaders at method & matter. Obsessed with time. Design, decoloniality, systems, learning. She/her.

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