– Where have the inquiring minds gone?

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I have an old friend who has become a well recognized illustrator and now teaches illustration for an art school in the northeast. I am certain you have seen his work over the years in a variety of magazines and books. As an illustrator, he is used to working alone quietly in his studio. As a teacher though, he has to work with a lot of college-aged kids who often tests his patience.

Knowing my background in human behavior in the business world, he calls me now and then to lament about the attitudes of his students. Remarkably, his comments are not any different than what I hear from managers in the business world. Specifically, he complains his students show no sign of personal initiative to learn, solve problems, and try new things, but rather want to be spoon-fed by the teaching staff. They have trouble innovating, adapting, and overcoming hurdles. True, they need to listen to the teachers, but there are few willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. This is perhaps my friend’s biggest challenge, to motivate them to think on their own, something all illustrators and artists must do in order to survive. If the student is unwilling to show initiative, he/she will likely fail not just the course, but professionally as well.

The same is true in business. We are looking for people who exhibit “self-initiative,” something few young people seem to have anymore. For our consulting company, when we hired a young person, we would say something like, “Look, you’re a grown-up now; you’re suppose to be a professional. In this company, we believe in self-supervision. As a small company, we do not have time to supervise you 24/7. We’ll train you accordingly, but we have no time for holding your hand. If we have to hold your hand, we cannot use you.” We were very up-front about this. The young people either sank or swam after hearing this. Most appreciated the fact we were treating them like professionals. We quickly parted company with those who didn’t, and found a replacement rather quickly. At least we didn’t waste too much time on those who couldn’t assimilate into our corporate culture.

This attitude of developing a dependency on another is a byproduct of two things: parental coddling, and micromanagement, whereby nobody is allowed to do anything without the personal approval of the boss. Basically, they are saying, “Don’t think, I know what is best, just do as I say.” This inhibits the initiative of the employee, hinders loyalty, and slows progress. Workers must be able to voice their opinion on work assignments.

We have always found it more effective to “manage from the bottom-up,” meaning the boss should develop the required skills of his people to perform the work, create a productive work environment, give precise instructions for job assignments, and get out of their way. The staff should routinely report to the manager on progress. Other than that, the manager should stay out of the way unless a problem occurs effecting schedules and budgets.

This “managing from the bottom-up” approach has proven very effective over the years as it encourages more management and less supervision, which is the antithesis of micromanagement. Some workers resist the concept simply because they do not want to be held accountable for their actions and prefer to be told what to do, thereby eluding responsibility.

This, of course, leads us back to my friend’s problem with his students. What is needed is to state his position at the start of the term; i.e., “Look, you’re a grown-up now; hopefully, you’re going to be a professional soon. In this school, we believe in self-supervision. We do not have time to supervise you 24/7. We’ll train you accordingly, but we have no time for holding your hand. If we have to hold your hand, you will likely fail this course.”

One other thing I would suggest to my friend, as well as others; provide time for the students/workers to meet and work through problems as a collective group, preferably a short meeting at the start of the day. Let the students/workers each discuss their problems and solicit suggestions and critiques from their peers. Teachers and managers should participate as moderators only. Let the workers do the talking and force them to find the way to solve problems.

Such meetings improve the socialization skills of the people and helps to create an esprit de corps, thereby simplifying the lives of teachers and managers.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – For a listing of my books, click HERE.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is an author, freelance writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2021 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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