Real questions from our readers

Occasionally we receive questions from TechRepublic members asking for advice or input regarding their specific situation. One arrived recently which deals with a question now heard fairly frequently and because of its application to others, we thought it made sense to print it with my response:

Q: In a large new media company, two recent graduate managers were talking about how they ought to manage their teams, composed mostly of web designers of a similar age to themselves. The managers both have a technology and management degree, whilst the designers have arts degrees. One said, "I think it's better to be their friend, go to the pub with them after work, and get them on my side." The other, who had been reading Machiavelli, disagreed, "No, its better for the young prince to be feared than loved. I might have to make difficult decisions about their work one day. Besides, provided they are getting paid. What more could they want?"

What might be the implications of both perspectives? Which is "better" and under which


A: Studying Niccollo Machiavelli is right up there with quoting Shakespeare for management ideas that have been proven valuable over the centuries. Both had keen insights into the workings of the human spirit and politics at large. However, what was right in the mid- sixteenth century doesn't necessarily have application in the twenty-first.

Today's leaders must recognize that there is no longer a one-size-fits-all management approach. In today's fast moving and much more global workplace, managers must learn and adapt their styles with far greater frequency than in the past. That means leaders need to manage different people in different ways too.

It's likely that everyone in this new media company is in one of these age groups: either Gen X (born before 1979), or Millennial (born in 1980 or after), or Boomer (born before 1963). Each of these groups came of age with a different perspective (Boomers thought they'd change the world, Xers that the worst was yet to come, and Millennials that they could have anything and be whatever they chose). Consequently, each has different values and to a large extent each needs to be managed differently.

With the exception of the Boomers, not many people in today's workplace in the Western world will put up with an arrogant boss who manages by decree and expects that the paycheck is sufficient motivation to stick around where there's little personal appreciation shown for on their personal contribution.

If the team is made up of those in their 20s and 30s, acting like a peer - or even better a collaborator - is a good style. This group appreciates working with as opposed to for a team leader and when shown that they are valued can make amazing contributions. But getting them onside doesn't mean going to the pub together; it can be accomplished just fine during times of business.

There probably will come a time when the boss (team leader) has to make tough decisions about some of her or his group and it will be easier if they aren't pals. But - and this applies to all three age groups - if that has to occur, I recommend that you do it quickly and with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember, everyone has a boss. Even the former Chairperson / CEO of HP found that out. Treat others with dignity and hopefully you'll be treated the same way.


Leadership Coach