Sunday, August 14, 2011

Defining your management philosophy

“So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work” – Peter F. Drucker

What is your management philosophy?  Chances are you’ve never really taken the time to articulate it. It may initially seem a waste of time to attempt boiling down all of the intricacies of your management style into a few principles you could label as a philosophy.  However much like a mission statement it does help to communicate to yourself and others those core beliefs that should be fundamental to all of your management decisions.   Taking the time to write out your philosophy helps you learn what it actually is and gives you a foundation to align with when making critical decisions. And it comes in pretty handy when you hire new team members, interview for a new job or take over an existing team.

Unfortunately the vast majority of managers have never given any thought to this at all.  They just chug along “doing their job” as they see it.  They worry about deadlines, deliverables and budgets.  They lack a consistent fountain as the basis for their most important management decisions.  But everyone has some sort of intrinsic management philosophy even if they don't realize it.

Note that I'm referring to management "philosophy" and not management "style".  Your style is more the how and the philosophy is the why.  For example I might describe my management style to be sort of like my poker style:  "tight aggressive".  In other words I can be passive and hands-off, but very willing and able to aggressively get into the details and get things done when needed. But my philosophy (below) provides the reasons for my style. 

When it comes to your philosophy there are no right answers.  As you are well aware there are many different types of managers and many successful managers with very different management visions.  There are countless management theories out there to learn from and I recommend you take some time to look into these.  For example the book As One by Mehrdad Bahai and James Quigley is a good start.   Regardless of how you arrive at your philosophy, the purpose of this posting is to encourage you to spend the time to write one down, even if it’s only a few bullet points. 

Some things to keep in mind as you author your own list of management principles:
  • Start by thinking about what underlying code of conduct guides you in your decisions already.
  • Then think about what is missing or miss-used in your current decision making.
  • Consider what other managers you admire do
  • Use high level principles that can apply to almost any situation
  • Avoid listing things that are general job requirements.  For example “Approving all expense reports on time” doesn’t really fit.
  • It should not be a set of rules with any if/then conditions. You will end up creating rules as implementations of your philosophy.
  • Keep it simple
Today I’m going to undergo this exercise myself and write out a summary of my own management philopshy.  Hopefully this will help you articulate your own.  In the interest of keeping each of these blog articles relatively short I’m not going to talk through my thoughts on different management models today and in the future we’ll get into more detail on how to apply these to every day decisions.

Billy Turchin’s management philosophy

I.                   Leadership:  The best managers are leaders

The best managers are more than administrators, controllers or followers.  They do more than focus on structure and processes.  Instead they are innovators, creators and influencers.  They focus on people and personal development.  This principle guides most of my decisions as a manger.

II.                Enablement:  Employees should be positioned for success

Your team wants variety, learning opportunity and additional responsibilities.  If you fail to provide these you will face decreased morale, apathy or worse.  As a manager you should have a goal for your team members to be successful in their careers and their lives.   Do what you can do position people for this success.  Their success is your success. 

III.             Fairness:  Employees must be treated fairly and honestly

Your employees are people too and as a manager you are no better than anyone else.  People deserve to be treated with respect and honesty.

IV.              Power:  An effective managers recognizes the powers available to them and uses them properly

In a future posting we’ll talk about the five types of power (Legitimate, Personal, Expert, Reward & Coercive) you have as a manager and how to use them. 

V.                 Communication:  Expectations and goals must be clearly set

I’ve found that the majority of conflict and frustration in the workplace results from a misunderstanding in expectations.  The best managers will clearly communicate expectations of their team and of themselves while still giving employees the freedom they need to get the job done.

VI.              Quality:   Quality is more important than process or effort

Effort does not equal effectiveness and quality of work is more important then hours worked.  Processes exist to improve quality but sometimes hamper it.  At the end of the day the output is what should be judged. 

VII.           Be positive

This goes along with (I) but the best leaders are also positive thinkers.  And a little bit of positive reinforcement goes a long way toward employee morale and work drive.  Fake it till you make it?

VIII.        Adapt:  My management philosophy is fluid

Never be afraid of change, even to your own management beliefs.

Shaping your own management philosophy is an important step in defining yourself as a manager.  It forces you to take the time to define and further craft your own doctrine.  When you hire someone new, or takeover an existing team, you can then easily given your directs a clear understanding of your beliefs by reviewing this philosophy with them. 

Every once in a while take a look back at your list to remind yourself and re-align your direction.  Or even keep this bullet point list handy at your desk at all times. Remember that great leaders aren't born that way; you have to work at it!


  1. I feel like conveying a managment philosophy to your team helps set expectations for the managed employees. Often I've had managers that make decsions that come out of left field or are more reactive than productive. It seems to me that having a managment philosophy makes you accountable as a manager to stay focused on the 'big picture' for your team and the company.

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  3. This point is very beautiful in your post, that employees are people too and as a manager anyone is no better than anyone else. People deserve to be treated with respect and honesty.We should follow this point in our life.
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