Biz Tips: Managing People Causes Disengagement

Joan McGuire

Regardless of whether your title is executive, director or manager, the practice of managing people instead of leading them drives down engagement.

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I’ve always loved the expression: “Things get managed, but people get led.” It’s a great perspective and it’s true.

But how exactly do bosses “manage” people? After lots of reflection, I’ve distilled what managing people means down to two issues.

The first way bosses manage people is by treating people like things, and the second way is by treating adults like children.

Let me elaborate on those issues and illustrate how leading people differs from managing them.

How does someone treat people like things? We do it in several ways. We do it when we’re insensitive to people and interact with them as if they have no feelings. We treat people like things when we ignore the fact that everyone has hopes and dreams and fears and stress.

We treat people like things when we relate to people as if our own goals and aspirations are more important to us than theirs are to them.

And we treat people like things when we don’t show respect for people nor value their contributions, efforts and potential.

When we treat people like things, it sends the message that they are unimportant and that we just don’t care about them.

When people sense we don’t care about them, they start not to care about us. When the company tolerates leaders who don’t care about people, people tend not to care about the company.

And when people don’t care, there is no engagement.

A good leader understands that people’s hopes, dreams, fears and stresses are real and matter to them.

A leader inspires people. A leader interacts with people as people, helping them to be their best.

A leader relates to people the way they themselves want to be treated. And a leader helps people achieve their own goals.

How does someone treat adults like children?

Think for a moment about how we relate to children and why we relate that way.

We generally tell children what they need to do and when they need to do it by. We do that because we don’t trust their judgment, their sense of responsibility and/or their self-discipline.

We regularly check up on children because we don’t trust them to follow through on their commitments. We check up on children because we don’t trust them to be responsible.

When we don’t trust people to do what needs to be done and don’t trust their judgment, we are treating them as if they are children.

When we micromanage people, we are treating them like children. When we treat people like children, it shows a lack of respect and trust.

When people feel they aren’t respected and trusted, they lose respect for us.

When people feel they aren’t respected and valued, there is no engagement.

If someone doesn’t know what to do, then our job as a leader is to develop their knowledge and abilities. The shortcoming lies with the leader, not the follower.

If someone lacks the necessary judgment for a task or decision, then our job as a leader is to develop their judgment.

If their judgment remains inadequate, then either we aren’t as competent a leader as we need to be or we just have the wrong person on our team.

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Either way, resorting to treating someone as a child is a poor course of action.

If you want to avoid disengagement and drive engagement to higher levels, lead people instead of managing them.

Care about people and develop them. Expect people to be responsible and to do their best work, and then hold them accountable.

There’s no need to accept mediocrity or to compromise in any way. Instead, hone your leadership skills and learn to bring out the best in people.

Michael Beck is a Portland-based executive coach, business strategist and author of the leadership book, “Eliciting Excellence.”

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