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Management 2.0 and The Trumpeter inthe Attic

Today for the first time I heard the phrase “Management 2.0.” I guess I knew that was coming.

I’ve been around long enough for Total Quality Management (in the military, no less, which was a hilariously inappropriate venue for that management vogue–“O.k., we’re going to vote on it, and we’re voting on it NOW!”), 3 T’s and an A (or Time, Training, Tools, and Attitude, which I still like), MBWA, or Management By Walking Around (ditto), and whatever vogue we’re in now.

Every management vogue has its hokey side and its interesting lessons. But I hear klaxon horns whenever I hear of a management model that claims it will permanently change the nature of work. This would require permanently changing the nature of people.

The reality (or, perhaps, my reality) is that work is an essentially dysfunctional activity. We are not wired at the most fundamental level to put on monkey suits and spend dozens of hours every week united in the common cause of an institution. (In case you’re wondering, we’re wired to go find some nuts and berries and perhaps a juicy little rabbit to bring back to our dens and share with our family of origin while we stare into the fire or the HDTV, as the situation warrants.)

My management theory is that a good manager acknowledges this essential dysfunction and constantly works around it. That work effort can take many forms, from meetings that encourage all voices to be heard, to modeling good time management and planning, to teaching people how to set aside their personal differences in order to achieve an objective. I have also learned how to listen to silence. As a manager, I tend to think silence is very instructive. Finally, work can be a fun, humane, productive place where good people do good things. Beyond that, if you think you can make work much better than that you may not be spending enough time with your family.

One of my management maxims comes from a conversation I heard among jazz musicians several decades ago (when I spent a surprising amount of time among this group). I heard a bass player remark that the best trumpeter in the world plays Sundays in his mother’s attic.

I like to see the attic trumpeter get heard. That’s not easy, and it’s not as facile as it appears. Often good ideas are buried in back rooms, or in a shy person, or in a group that feels it will not be ignored or given lip service. Giving the attic trumpeter a voice involves more than being approachable; in fact, it’s the opposite (because the most assertive people are by definition not disenfranchised; they can take care of themselves–and if you’ve ever been at a meeting where the same person drowned out the others, you know what I mean).

I have had to learn patience, and willingness to approach people, and the ability to ask where the silence is. Who is not being heard? Where are your trumpeters?

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