The paradox of masterly management leadership style

To understand this article, first read Managing in Mayberry by Don Gray & Dan Starr:

In short, it is about three different styles of leadership, depending on their view of the problem. The situation is that, in heavy traffic, left-turners may cause a queue of cars that leads to a dangerous situation.

  • Officer Barney’s micromanaging leadership style is that the situation is tricky, and in tricky situations, the manager should be directing everyone.
  • Aunt Bea’s parentally management leadership style is that management needs to handle conflicts while the rest of the work could be self-organized.
  • Sheriff Andy’s masterly managing leadership style is to have an overview of the whole system, and when conflicts are about to cause a problem for the system, it’s time to intervene.

Note that Barney and Bea are focusing on what action to take while Andy is focusing on the result to achieve.

Now, here’s the paradox.

What if you studied the actions of the three styles from a distance, based on their actions and don’t understand the full picture or the different manager’s view of the problem? What would the different leadership styles look like then?

What Barney does is obvious. He takes his responsibility as a manager and takes control of the situation. From the outside, it’s easy to understand, and it’s consistent.

The same for Bea, even though it might take some time before you see the clear connection between a left-turner and Bea’s reaction.

But what about Andy’s actions?

Without having an understanding of his approach, you will probably think it’s just random actions. Some left-turners will not cause any action while others will. Is it because of the car’s color, or is it because of the size, or is it something about the driver? Because you are studying his actions without knowing what he is triggered by, it will make no sense. Sometimes he is micromanaging, and sometimes he will stand there without any interaction, even when the situation in the intersection can look quite messy.

I have sometimes worked with managers like Andy, and I have seen the frustration and irritation their, to some seemingly random, leadership style has caused. But still, their style is just the right one, and it is more likely to give excellent results. The downside is that Andy’s style will not be seen as good management. The excellent result will look like it arrived despite the manager’s irrational behavior toward people from the outside. 

It’s much easier to look good for managers like Barney. They take action, and some of them will succeed and can solve the situation. Some will fail, but at least they took action. Even though Barney’s approach is less powerful when handling complex situations and the success was probably more because of good luck than the right approach, Barneys are more likely to become the heroes. Heroes will be promoted, and soon, most of the organization’s managers will be Barneys, and guess what – yes, they will continue to encourage Barney’s approach because that’s the approach they think is the right one. They will probably criticize Andys for keeping their distance, just observing, instead of taking action. They will also try to make them change to adopt Barney’s leadership style.

An organization full of managers like Barney has trouble handling complexity. It will be a lot of actions, but little real value created. People in the organization will feel stressed at the volatile orders coming from their leaders.

The questions are:

  • What can top managers do to promote people with Andy’s more holistic approach?
  • What can you do if you have a leadership style like Andy’s and want it to look less irrational?

This is for another article to answer.

Thanks to Don Gray and Lisa Cowell for your help with this article

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