Two Managerial Tools: Attitudes and Power
Jul 20, 2010
by LOWELL LAMBERTON of Central Oregon Community College
One of the commonest mistakes new entrepreneurs make is not realizing that they also have to be managers. Early in my college management courses, we discuss the "managerial mind set." Students who have already been managers usually nod in agreement when we discuss this material. They’ve been there. They have already discovered that becoming a manager of people involves a whole different set of skills. And that's ironic, since entrepreneurs often choose their role because they are good at an entirely different set of skills, most of them totally unrelated to management.
Becoming a new manager requires a fresh way of looking at the workplace. Instead of getting your satisfaction from a job well done, for example, you have to receive most of your satisfaction from a more abstract source—the success of your subordinates. Instead of scheduling your own time carefully, you often have to schedule much of your subordinates' time. Possibly the most difficult thing to get used to is that the words you say and the actions you take are being carefully scrutinized by your subordinates—and not always fairly. Suddenly, you can't ever afford to be careless with the impression you are making. For example, if you come to work hung over, many more people take notice. Of course, some of those people might be customers, too; but that’s a whole topic in itself.
Let’s examine two problem areas for new managers—power and attitudes:
Power. The first big bugaboo is the use of power. Power is often thought of as a sinister force, something to be avoided or suppressed. We often base this prejudice on the misuses of power we have seen both on and off the job. We think of Hitler, Nixon, and other historical figures who have abused power.
Power mistake #1 is the underuse of power, often because of the misgivings I just mentioned (also, possibly because we simply haven't learned yet how to make power work in our favor). Power mistake #2 is the overuse of power, for example, barking orders just to remind subordinates that you are in authority.
Management success in this area comes from achieving a balance in which you come to see power for what it is: a useful tool for getting things accomplished. One of my management professors in graduate school used to hold up a kitchen match and ask, "Is this a good thing or a malevolent thing?" After getting a few varying replies from the class, he would say, "But, hey, I could use this to burn someone's house down; I could ruin lives." or, if the discussion had gone the other way, "I could use it to light my campfire and cook meals" along with many other positive uses he'd mention.
"Power," he concluded, "is like that. It's neutral. You—the manager—are the one who will make it good or evil, effective or sinister."
Attitudes. If you need to check out your own attitude (and most of us do), try using the old Theory X/ Theory Y concepts. Theory X and Y managers are differentiated by their own attitudes towards their subordinates. Theory X managers think that most people would rather not work, and thus need to be cajoled, tricked, or intimidated into working productively.
On the other hand, Theory Y managers see work as "as natural a part of life as are play and rest.” They thus believe that the reward for hard work is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction with a job well done. Which way do you tend to go in your own management style? If your company is not yet big enough to have employees, which way do you think you will lean when the time comes? (Most of us aren't all one or all the other).
Your attitudes towards your work, your subordinates, and your customers can make or break you as an effective manager. Looked at in another way, attitudes can be seen as the whole issue— because even the power issue involves your attitudes towards power. For successful management, watch those attitudes—especially your attitudes towards power. They are your managerial mind set and can affect your success greatly.
Lowell Lamberton is professor of business at Central Oregon Community College. For more information, feel free to contact Professor Lamberton at 541-383-7714 or