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Alpha Framing: Managing Your Authority

Posted by Randolph Castro on January 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Business. Management. Interfacing, networking. How many of us really take time to consider what these words mean? We all want to rise up in the world, we all want to “make it.” Picture it: you’ve been working your brain into a caffeine frenzy to make it through college, ready to shake off the undergraduate-zombie haze and take on the corporate world.


Now, this isn’t one of those editorials meant to tear you down and tell you that your chances of getting a job in your field fresh out of college are astronomically low. I don’t know what your field is, what your credentials are, what favors you intend to call in. That’s not what my focus is here. I’m here to wax poetic on the fact that the generational gap is getting bigger and bigger, but as technology becomes more and more impressive and we live longer and longer, multiple generations working together in the same company are becoming more and more likely.


Imagine that you, as a manager, are dealing with people older than you are; people from your parents’ generation, or even your grandparents’ generation. How do you handle that? How do you treat them? Do you give them leeway to show them that you respect them? Are you harder on them, so that they will respect you?


What if a friend of yours ends up as one of your subordinates? What if you strike up a friendship with one of the subordinates you already have? How do you handle that contingency? These are issues that face any number of young managers, and it can be immensely difficult to figure out what to do. Management is more than just a buzzword or a scapegoat for why a business is failing. It’s a tightrope walk.


Every moment of a given workday brings out a vital decision for a manager. Being in a position of power isn’t like leveling up; you don’t suddenly unlock new privileges and special favors, so much as you find yourself faced with new problems and fewer options. You are now held accountable for the livelihood of every worker under you, which brings pressure from below; you are also held accountable for the productivity and results of every worker under you, bringing pressure from above.


Man of the Hour is meant to be a one-stop shop for everything a young professional gentleman could need, so of course it would be a beautiful, and entirely appropriate, thing if I could just have a list of strategies for every type of employee you could deal with. Beautiful, appropriate, and impossible. We’re human beings, intrinsically imperfect, and that’s what makes management such a difficult game to play.


But there is a rule to keep well in mind for budding managers, and it’s one that’s going to be difficult to swallow considering how sticky this entire situation would be. The whole point of the hypotheticals I’ve posed to you thus far is that they’re hard to deal with; surely the answer can’t be simple.


You’ve heard the phrase “Easier said than done,” haven’t you?


The answer is: treat them exactly like you’d treat anyone else.


The key to making any business work is, oddly enough, to keep people on a level playing field. The key to proper management is to base interaction on skill and personality; neither of these things have anything to do with how old someone is, or how well you know them, or pretty much any other factor that makes dealing with people difficult.


You will hear that dealing with people of older (or newer) generations require certain sets of knowledge; managing them requires you to keep things in mind. The key to this advice, though, is that generational rules can be dangerous. All assumptions are dangerous. Being a good manager means avoiding these assumptions, and making your decisions based on what you’ve observed, rather than what you preconceive.


If this older generation question has to do with people who might be assuming they have authority over you, then the friend question has to do with people who might be assuming you don’t have authority over them. Opposite problem, same solution. A friendship has nothing to do with the workplace; all it is, in essence, is a wider scope of knowledge about their skills and personality. This may make it easier to place your friend into a position best suited to their abilities, but it shouldn’t make any difference in how you treat him or her, because unless you work in a very small, close-knit business comprised entirely of your personal friends, allowing yourself to do so puts everyone at a disadvantage. Work isn’t a place for favoritism; work is a place for results.


Keep in mind that I don’t mean to imply you should be a robot at work; being personable and approachable can be a very useful skill. What I’m saying is, if you’re in a management position, your job is to facilitate the skills of your subordinates to the best of your—and their—ability. This does, in fact, mean custom-tailoring your approach to each employee; but it also means doing this equally. Treat them with respect, treat them with dignity, but also make sure that you keep a certain amount of professional distance. Sure, a ten-minute chat over lunch might not make or break a business, but the idea that such ten-minute chats are okay might well cause a number of issues. It’s about the overall picture. Before you do anything that might harm productivity, ask yourself what would happen if everyone did it.


Before you step away from your work to take a personal phone call, consider what would happen if everyone did that; how much time has been used up and wasted? Before you eat that extra breadstick, consider how much money is spent if everyone ate an extra breadstick. Will they? No. But consider the worst-case scenario, because that’s another aspect of your job. You’re in a position of power, which means you’re responsible for the livelihood of your given business to a higher degree than other employees. By placing you in such a position, your superiors have shown they have faith in your ability to benefit your business more so than the average worker; do yourself, and everyone under your supervision, a favor and act like it.


Regardless of whomever those people might be.

Categories: Culture: Alpha Framing

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