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We learn more from what we get wrong than what we get right. Research proves this theory. I believe we can extend this theory to the fact that we can learn a lot from those that have managed us badly. All those moments when we finished work and thought, ‘I could have managed that so much better’. 

In my career, I have been fortunate to work for some truly inspirational managers. I hope to be at least half as good as they are. I have also worked for people that were truly awful people managers. Those people that were promoted for their job competency, rather than their people management competency.

The Peter Principle was a concept of management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter in 1969. It states that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role.

Treating My Time as Their Own

In my early career, as a supermarket buyer in the UK, I worked a lot of hours. My Dad had worked a lot of hours, and my brother did. It was what I knew. This meant that I worked from 8 am to 7 pm on most days. This was my choice, though not a conscious one and I knew no better. Unfortunately, my managers at the time worked a lot of hours too. There were three problems with this, that I now understand and didn’t back then.

Having been a time management trainer, blogger and thought leader on the topic for 15 years, I know that the connection between results and hours is a tenuous one. A little like watching a faulty machine making golf balls. Every 8th golf ball is the shape of a flying saucer. The answer? Run the machine longer until we catch-up every 8th misshapen golf ball.

The second problem is that my boss, my line managers, he in charge of my development could not see beyond his own shortcomings and not only did he not discourage it, but he also offered no means of helping me to change those critical behaviours in my formative working years.

Project Manager

The final problem was that being someone that worked long hours too, my manager realised that he could get work done after hours and began scheduling meetings with me at 7 pm to 8.30 pm. I knew no different and did as I was told. Overtime 8 am got extended to 9 pm, as we worked closely together.

Action:  Treat people’s time as their own. As a people manager, it is not yours to own.

If You Have ‘Director’ in Your Job Title, Direct

All too often we see people doing the job of the person below. Either through a lack of trust, or because they’ve done their job, or because they don’t know how to do their own job, too many people focus downwards. This causes the problem of micro-management and encourages every layer to do the same to the layer below. No-one earning their salary because they are too busy doing what they believe others cannot.

If you are a Director, direct. Whilst it is easier to do the job you have done, agree SMART  targets with your team, have regular 121’s and support them to achieve. This is fundamentally different from doing it for them.

For me, the most profound example of this was when I was told by my boss that he and two other Directors had met about one of the ranges in one of my buyer’s categories, and decided that the pack colour was wrong and that it should be a different colour.

The point isn’t that they might have been right, or they might have been wrong. In fact, it was unprovable either way. The point is that 3 Directors, paid 6 figures each, met to discuss an insignificant detail. If the strategy for the business had been clear my gripe would have been much smaller. Unfortunately, the 3-year strategy was missing, we, as a wider team, lacked real leadership, and yet here we were with Directors spending time on the details because they found it comfortable to do so. Meanwhile we the company direction was lacking.

Action: ‘Fiddle with the tins’ when you know that your store is making money for the long term.

Written By
Darren A. Smith, Founder of MBM, has spent 12 years as a Buyer for one of the big four UK supermarkets. MBM enable suppliers to the big four supermarkets to secure more profitable wins. They are from the UK Grocery Industry industry delivering People Development. Using their unique training method - ‘Sticky Learning ®’ - You too can have the best people for the long term. Checkout their People Management Skills.

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