Last week I started a new series of articles on the theme of “good jobs”. Work is a huge part of most people’s lives…. And yet 85% of workers (according to Gallup) are either not engaged or actively disengaged from their work. That amounts to a heart-breaking waste of precious hours. So how can we heal this rift?

Stephen “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Covey wrote, “With people, if you want to save time, don’t be efficient. Slow is fast and fast is slow.” What he’s saying is that efficiency is not effectiveness. People don’t like to be micromanaged. They like autonomy.

Scenario 1: Slow is Fast

good managerMs Manager wants Mr Worker to do something (although, as we’ll be exploring in a later article, this hierarchical structure is increasingly passing its sell-by date) so she sets aside some serious up-front time with him to discuss the piece of work – e.g. what it is, how it fits into the broader strategic goals of the organisation, why it’s important, how it interfaces with work that other people are doing, and what criteria it must meet in order to serve its purpose.

If she is a really enlightened manager, she may also take this opportunity to find out more about Mr Worker (although hopefully she would have known much of this already, and used this information when she decided to assign this particular piece of work to him) – e.g. his working methods, his personal values and how they relate to this project, his ambitions, and how this project can be used to further his individual goals. They might identify some ways in which he wants to develop, and define some personal outcomes as well as the project deliverables.

Mr Worker is inspired. He can see how this piece of work is going to be meaningful – to the organisation and to himself. He is motivated to do a great job, and puts heart and soul into over-delivering. Ms Manager is delighted, and at their end-of-project review they discuss how they can further build on this success over the coming months.

Scenario 2: Fast is Slow

bad managerA time-pressed, over-stressed manager lobs a poorly-defined piece of work with a deadline onto the worker’s desk before rushing off to the next meeting. And then they’re surprised when the end result isn’t what they wanted, and the poor confused worker ends up catching it in the neck – leading to a downward spiral of motivation.

Okay, I know Scenario 2 is painting a deliberately bleak picture in the interests of dramatic effect. But this isn’t a million miles away from a reality that I have experienced, and I suspect that many others have too.

The Nelson Touch

HoratioNelson1This suggestion for taking the time bringing workers properly up to speed is nothing new. Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) called it “the Nelson Touch”. Contrary to the custom of the time, rather than direct a sea battle as it was occurring, through the use of signals, he would gather his captains together before the battle and tell them his plan. He would then allow them great leeway in how they carried out their individual orders.

So even after he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar, his captains were able to continue to victory. The assessment of his leadership style (per Wikipedia) is that “Nelson was regarded as a highly effective leader, and someone who was able to sympathise with the needs of his men. He based his command on love rather than authority, inspiring both his superiors and his subordinates with his considerable courage, commitment and charisma.”

Who wouldn’t want a boss like that?!

So I hope you’ll take this to heart. If you’re a Mr/Ms Manager, amp up your Nelson Touch. If you’re a Mr/Ms Worker, try coaching your Mr/Ms Manager to do their job better. Ask for their time up-front, so you don’t need their time (aka interference and micromanagement!) later.

I’ll round off with quotes from a couple of Williams:

“Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people.” — William J. Clinton

“You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.” —William J. H. Boetcker


Please, tell me what you think! What are your experiences – good or bad? Who was the best boss you ever worked for? Why? I’d love to hear!




  • I worked at UPS as a driver. If you showed a desire to get into management you were usually promoted. At least it was like that in the 70’s and 80’s. I saw what I thought were drivers who couldn’t handle the delivery part of the job apply for a management position (supervisor) and they usually got it. UPS driver jobs were tough, but the pay was good and so were the benefits. To me, the most important thing to management was how fast you could work. Intimidation was one of their motivators. Drivers that couldn’t handle the pressure either asked to go into management, quit or were scrutinized by management (followed on there routes looking for any little reason to fire them). Losing people wasn’t a problem because of the good pay and bennies there were always people lined up to be hired.

      • No Roz, I don’t know those statistics. I do know that UPS employs more part time people than full time. A lot of college kids. And turn over there, as would be expected, is great.

  • Roz, thank you for this new article in the series! My best manager was my first manager. He saw my potential, and gave me not only more responsibility, but more autonomy. I felt that he trusted me, which motivated me to always do my best. He was very accessible and willing to listen to my ideas. The manager/employee relationship is like any relationship: success happens when parties feel acknowledged, appreciated, and trusted.

    • So very true, Cloris! I wonder why some people feel that they have to behave differently towards colleagues than they would towards friends or family members (actually, that could cut both ways, so I’d better be careful!). Company CULTURE needs to support the kind of great relationship you had with your first manager. He sounds great!

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