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Emotional Intelligence and the Absent Manager

What is the cause of loss of performance in a team?

Whilst there are many reason for the poor performance of a workplace ‘team’ or department, it can reasonably be assumed that an absent manager will greatly contribute to the problem.

Organisations are like a fly-wheel. They need an entrepreneur to drive it; to give it momentum and get it spinning. Like a fly-wheel, when the driving force is removed, entropy will set in and the organisation will ‘slow down’ until it reaches an inert state.

Some managers, whether absent or not, are not capable of driving their organisation, department or team. An advocate of emotional intelligence would suggest that those working under an ineffective manager might feel detached from the organisation, the senior management and the organisation’s goals. This would induce a feeling of job worthlessness, stress and discontent. To overcome such a state, a manager would need to be high on Howard Gardner’s Interpersonal Intelligence (Initially proposed in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences – Google Howard Gardner multiple intelligences test).

It is important for a manger to relate well to their staff. I see Emotional Intelligence as ‘state of mind’ or a behaviour, rather than a tool to manage people. Therefore, an understanding of staff may be useful for a manager when building a relationship with them, however, they still need a process to manage interactions and to stimulate productivity.

Working alongside staff is one of the best ‘tools’ to manage them.

What is the manager’s responsibility?

A text book answer to this question might be to advise the manager to work closely with their staff; and to be available to help them when they need it. In doing so, it may help if they understand the EI of both the staff and themselves. This may enable the manager to adjust their own behaviour and that of others, to create an harmonious work environment in which productivity can be maximised.

In reality, there may be other factors affecting a work environment, such as the availability of resources, hierarchical and lateral communication, the work itself, the goals of individual workers, the size of the organisation, the geographic spread of the organisation and the organisation’s profitability (there is always less stress in an organisation that is financially healthy).

How does the manager’s actions contributed to the situation?

The simple answer is for the manager to spend more time guiding and nurturing their staff. A few years ago I was working with an client that was incredibly ‘non-compliant’, in an industry that is extremely highly regulated. However the business did not have the organisational culture nor the systems to implement a compliance system. It had about 6 full-time staff and a ‘CEO’ who was always absent but always appeared to be busy. The CEO was always busy with ‘finding new clients’ or doing some other ‘important’ task.

My report to the owner recommended that the compliance could not be rectified until new systems and processes were introduced, which meant a change in culture from one that resisted change to one that embraced change. The CEO had become the gatekeeper that prevented change to occur.

Therefore, my report recommended that ‘fancy job titles’ be abolished and the CEO was pushed sideways into a role of business development, on which he naturally appeared to focus, and a person in charge of systems and operations be introduced to work alongside me, as the compliance person; both reporting directly to the owner.

Many of the staff were comfortably lazy and unproductive, but in that situation, seemed to have high EI. When I ‘rattled the cage’ by introducing some immediate changes, several people became defensive and the whole team closed ranks behind the ineffective CEO. This process enabled me to understand the culture and to plan the strategy I should pursue.

The issue of an ‘The Absent Manager’ would normally seem easy to fix. However, the real scenario with which I was confronted had a time frame of three weeks to rectify the issue; not nearly enough time to consider everyone’s emotional intelligence and to work on their deficiencies. Therefore, it was better to replace the person in the role than to mould the existing person in the role.

How the manager needs to change the way they think and behave?

From my personal experience with Absent Managers, I have observed that there are usually other issues that accompany the absenteeism. Such managers are often high on Gardner’s Intrapersonal Intelligence and low on Interpersonal Intelligence. They are often egotistical, do not share information, but instead, busily promote themselves in front of senior management, ignoring subordinates.

I once had a business partner, amongst a group of six partners, who displayed these characteristics. He was desperate to be called the CEO, so we allowed him to fill such a position. The organisation become so disjointed and dysfunctional that we had to remove him. He left a trail of financial loss and unrest amongst the staff. Typically, he was an absent manager as he focused on attending meetings that promoted himself within the industry. He was always busy, but never achieved anything. The staff had to continually fix mistakes he made, yet he took the credit for any achievements that they generated.

It would be easy to guide any manager to:

  • Develop others

  • Share information

  • Communicate effectively

  • Listen to staff

  • Encourage staff to express their feelings and ideas

  • Build trust with staff, and,

  • Work towards team goals.

However, some people simply do not understand that there is a lot of knowledge they could learn and apply from formal or informal study, but instead close their minds to anything beyond their own instincts. Such people are dangerous in management roles. Modern organisations do not have the time or resources to carry such managers. I’m in favour of replacing them rather than trying to change them.

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