The Advantages of Becoming a Macro Manager

“When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: ‘Only stand out of my light.’ Perhaps some day we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for creative men and women is to stand out of their light.” – John W. Gardner

Shine the light on creativity. Let the creative process work. Clearly define the goals and objectives. Give your employees support and freedom to reach those goals and then get out of their light. In this environment, team members will feel empowered to create new ideas and find creative solutions to old problems. Potential roadblocks will be anticipated and alternative routes quickly planned. Allowing a free-flow approach to work produces powerful enterprise – not busy work.

A former colleague, Sarah, at one time worked for city government. She told me a remarkable tale of appearance being more important than results. Sarah found she worked best when she organized her work and only kept what was essential on her desk. Her superior called her in to his office and informed her she did not seem to have enough work to do since her desk was virtually empty. Sarah shared her solution, ” I stacked folders, manuals and papers all over my desk and on the floor. I put post-it notes on my computer and desk. No one ever bothered me again regarding my workload.”

This is a classic example of micromanagement. Sarah’s boss didn’t like employees to stand out or look like they were not part of his “work model.” He clung to arbitrary, pre-established norms that went beyond performance. He was more concerned that Sarah looked like she was busy than he was about the quality or amount of work she actually accomplished. People work in different ways. Sarah prefers order and neatness. An effective leader focuses on outcome and productivity, not individual work habits. Simply looking busy is meaningless. When meeting with an employee to discuss performance, allow him or her to explain how they plan to meet deadlines and accomplish tasks.

Some managers may say they agree to try a different system or change ways to handle a problem. However, sometimes their words are hollow. Craig, a colleague, is an ordained minister. As you will see from his prior experience, sometimes it’s not only about keeping people busy, it is also about using deception to manage potential problems, creating the illusion of change and flexibility. Craig was hired as a resource for pastors and churches to facilitate change. The denomination had announced a number of changes, which Craig had explained. Ultimately Craig became frustrated because the promised changes didn’t happen. He explained to the Board Members how failure to follow through with the changes would result in a large slip in morale. He concluded, “The consensus of the Board was to let me go rather than manage the larger changes.”

Management can be downright hard at times. With a myriad of problems seemingly emerging from the telephone and leaking from the computer onto the desk, promised changes may seem like a great idea to stave off unrest. Craig’s experience demonstrates how a little deception can defraud a whole team. It was easy. Promise changes, but never actually make the changes. This is at best a temporary fix. Broken promises can only be explained away for a short time. Work relationships are like checking accounts. Each broken promise debits the Bank of Management Trust. A leader maintains a positive balance in the account by keeping his or her promises, no matter how small. Craig refused to run a negative balance and moved on with his life.

There are times when goals seem clearly defined, yet little progress is actually being made on a project. A creative manager can step in and work with the group to explore the cause and effect of current lack-luster efforts. This should be done in a non-confrontational manner, allowing each member to offer ideas, ponder results, and help find solutions.

I once owned a medium-sized manufacturing company that supplied the hospitality industry with framed art. We were having some serious issues with shipping finished artwork to clients. We had been using large cardboard boxes on wooden pallets. Damaged product was a common occurrence but nobody seemed able to think of a way to solve the problem. We had tried multiple ways of packing, many different types of protective wrapping and various strapping techniques.

Finally in frustration I presented the problem in an open staff meeting. A nineteen-year-old employee who had been working for me about three weeks asked a simple question, “How much do the boxes, pallets and protective wrapping cost? “ The teenager then came up with a solution that was elegant in it’s simplicity. He said, “Gosh, for that much money we could build wooden crates.” We were lost in the forest; he saw the tree!

Mary, a former teacher, told me a story of “great ideas” that can be robbed of value by busy work and not anticipating a roadblock. She taught in a private school where the upper grades were urged to interact with and tutor the lower grade students. This encouraged the older students to really learn the material well before having the opportunity to teach it to the younger kids. The children in the lower grades listened and responded to the older students, so the situation was valid and useful as an educational method. A new principal came on board and decided that the faster learners should be assigned additional materials to keep them occupied while the “slower kids” caught up. Mary described the outcome, “Unfortunately, children who were learning quickly began dallying over the first assignments because they knew the more they finished, the more uninteresting, unimaginative ‘busy work’ they would be assigned.”

Mary’s example could happen in any work place. One bright employee has a great idea. The group enthusiasm gives the project a “Go!” before examining potential roadblocks. A great leader will allow what I call “creative incubation.” Managers must allow time for an idea to fully develop. Make sure the idea is ready before introducing it into the workplace.

The ubiquitous Post-it®Notes is a great example of giving a creative idea time to work its way to success. Post-it®Notes, as we know it today, was not the planned product. Spencer Silver was working in the 3M research laboratories trying to find a strong adhesive. Silver developed a new adhesive, but it was even weaker than what 3M already manufactured. It stuck to objects, but could easily be lifted off. His supervisor did not squish Silver’s creation. In fact, management spread information about the discovery to other scientists working at 3M. Another scientist, Arthur Fry, used Silver’s adhesive to coat page markers. With the weak adhesive, the page markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the paper pages.

3M began distributing Post-it ®Notes nationwide in 1980. The communication of creative ideas was encouraged at 3M and the result is the development of one of the most popular office products available today.

A wise leader allows originality and creativity to flourish by focusing on goals and objectives – not the niggling details. Set the parameters and allow people to flex their innovation muscles. Remember, creativity comes willingly from team members who feel appreciated and valued. Inspire your team by being an openly supportive Macro Manager.