Empowering People

Jeff Andresen Website Pic

For some crazy reason, I recently decided to attend a few management technique conferences.  This is rare for me.  Usually my conference attendance is sporadic at best. I have found that if I spend two days listening to hyper-energetic speakers spouting off the latest management technique buzz words and sound bites, I need to allow at least 8-10 months for self-reflection so that I can quietly consider my conference takeaways at my own leisure.

At the risk of getting kind of personal, I have to admit I am more than a bit susceptible to hyper-energetic conference presenters. For some reason it always feels like they are speaking directly to me. While I blame my susceptibility on years of exposure to clergy whose words rattled around in my subconscious like Jiminy Cricket hopped up on 48 ounces of Mountain Dew, I relish the notion that I am getting individual advice at group prices. Susceptibility runs in my family. My mother is the poster child for the self-help industry. Her first words to me were “I’m Okay” followed by a tentative “and your father and I think YOU might be Okay” – which to be honest was not very comforting.

Management conferences in the ‘90s revolved around the concept of “empowerment”. I saw this as a fancy way of delegating before delegating was really a thing. I never could understand where empowerment started and stopped.   How much “empowerment” do you give a person?  When is the best time to empower a person? Do you really tell a person why you are empowering them or let them guess when they see you putting on your golf shoes?  Do you empower one person at a time or a bunch of people so you can really relax?  I secretly believe this whole “empowerment push” was the impetus behind the Power Rangers. I know you’re thinking that’s a stretch, but what other group of guys dress up in pastel jumpsuits and fix things unless their boss empowered them?

Just when I was getting the hang of empowering people, conference gurus started telling me to “get out of the box.” It seemed like everyone was convinced that a whole generation of managers decided to say “Shirley, bring me one of those banker boxes we have in storage…I am going to crawl inside it and limit my thinking for a couple of years.”

Getting “out of the box” took on the same sense of urgency that you might feel if you were trapped in a burning apartment complex.  Managers were suddenly jumping out of the third story window of their banker boxes and thinking up crazy things that made no sense at all.  I actually heard one particularly dedicated “out of the boxer” telling his employees to “wear jeans on Friday”. That is nuts. In my opinion that kind of reckless behavior needs to be monitored very closely and that fellow should be put on a watch list.

Most recently, the term I am hearing is that managers need to take “a deep dive” into whatever managerial quagmire they might find themselves.  “Deep diving” seems to be the way that conference presenters choose to encourage managers to get more involved and investigate the little details. I have been doing that for years. My employees call it micromanaging.

The more I heard about “deep diving”, the more I thought about a time when I was six years old. My mom had bought me this really cool plastic submarine in which you placed some sort of fizzing tablet and it supposedly propelled to depths never before experienced by mankind. Regrettably, the submarine really only allowed me to investigate the little details of the tub drain.  My experience is that “deep diving” on a tub drain does not always result in the discovery of the type of treasures you had anticipated.  My assumption is that “managerial quagmire diving” may result in the same.

Oddly it seems that these conference folks have brought us full circle. In the ‘90s we empowered people so they could take care of details so we could golf.  Later we climbed in a box and wondered why the little details were not getting addressed.  After that, we jumped out of our boxes and started thinking about unique ways to unjam the copier and catch the employee who was stealing all the Splenda packets from the breakroom.  Now they are telling us to “deep dive” into the things that put us into our boxes in the first place.

Coming full circle for me is just fine.  I can now put Jiminy back in my pocket and go back to those days when I didn’t know any better.  Thank goodness.