A lady friend of mine went to go and do her regular shopping in one of the many malls that dot our cities and on this particular day, she was mugged and her handbag was snatched by an opportunist thief. She was devastated and although physically unharmed, felt scared and emotionally distraught. She was also highly irritated, because this meant the loss of her identification and driver’s licence, her credit cards, her money and a whole lot of items that women alone know they keep in their handbags. Upon arriving home, her husband saw that she was ashen and concerned and asked her about her condition. She recounted the story for him and then he proceeded to “explain” to her what she should have done to prevent this from happening in the first place. This just made her more irritated and angry – what she needed at that moment was a hug and understanding, not a lecture. For some reason, husbands feel that they are required to be solution-providers or answer-givers rather than to exist to facilitate the emotional energy and provide for the physical needs of their respective partners! Women are intelligent enough to know how to protect themselves in the mall – they don’t need trivial advice at times like these.

Managers seem to suffer from similar “diseases”! There seems to be a sub-conscious idea that they need to be able to provide answers when asked questions, suggest strategy in an un-contestable way, give instructions, bark out orders and feel that they are in control of their staff. This sense of power and importance is an ailment which needs to be treated. It demoralises and disempowers employees and reinforces the idea that “we have employed you for your hands and feet” and not “your mind and your heart”, the staff members thus having to go to the manager for all decisions and even the proposed method of getting the work done.

Managers should be facilitators, not “tellers”, of processes, the plan, the “big picture”, people and procedures. More particularly, managers should facilitate the following:

  • The emotional well-being of employees – finding out how people are feeling about themselves and their work, their development and their careers and truly attempting to understand them in a caring manner
  • The removal of obstacles – perceived barriers and unnecessary obstacles should be removed to facilitate better workflow and less hassle for employees – they would appreciate this
  • Solutions and answers to problems – employees are intelligent beings and can provide answers (I have never allowed a staff member to come to me just with a problem – they always have to provide a potential solution too)
  • Idea sessions and strategy – staff members love to be involved in contributing in this manner. Suggestions may need tweaking, but the manager can always point out, for example, “Have you considered the following?” Being part of formulating the way ahead gives employees a sense of ownership
  • The “big picture” – dreaming about the future together is a healthy stretch session for all involved
  • Behaviour reinforcement and correction, where necessary – asking the staff member to describe appropriate behaviour for a given context gets the employee thinking and realising his/her responsibility to the team and others
  • Performance management sessions – productivity, focus and energy applied correctly are the issues here. Giving employees the opportunity to evaluate their own contributions and to suggest behaviour changes gives ownership of the solutions to staff members
  • Processes and procedures – let the people that do the work come up with self-regulating processes and procedures to get maximum return. Don’t enforce your own ideas – facilitate their ideas

All managers should be facilitators – providing the context where employees can be involved, come up with ideas, self-regulate their activities, grow and offer their maximum contribution. This does imply that managers need to dismount the power and self-importance stallion and focus on facilitating development amongst all employees. An empowered work force will take ownership of the business and probably carry it forward.

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