Managing ‘mad’ - What is it, and are you doing it without knowing? Featured

11:41am EDT April 2, 2012
Managing ‘mad’ - What is it, and are you doing it without knowing?

In business, too many executives believe that the best path to success is to “manage mad” thinking this will project an image of determination and tenacity, combined with the ability to strike fear in the hearts of any naysayers with opposing views.

Is there a better way, a more balanced method to manage other than by mimicking a fire-breathing dragon? Unfortunately, we have too many bad role models who employ a fearsome persona. There are the pugnacious politicians who make every issue a black-and-white cause célèbre, screaming, “If we don’t do it my way, we’ll wind up in a shambles on the precipice of extinction.” Then there are the professional and college coaches, with seemingly permanent scowls etched on their faces, who shout their mandates to be sure players know that if they don’t get the play right, they run the risk of being toast.

Corporate executives from the most admired to the most reviled have adopted this managing mad game face over time, some, perhaps, without even realizing it.

Certainly there is a time and place for a boss to raise his or her voice a few octaves, take on facial expressions of the walking dead and deliver a monologue laced with wakeup calls about either doing it the leader’s way or facing possible draconian consequences. This technique is best used very sparingly in situations that warrant an edgy demeanor. However, if a boss constantly plays the managing mad card, it loses its impact and the message becomes diluted as recipients think to themselves, “Same old, same old — just another series of empty threats.” Constantly portraying a vitriolic curmudgeon serves only to dampen hope and curb enthusiasm.

A point of clarification: Don’t confuse managing mad with being direct and holding people accountable while communicating clearly and explaining the positives, as well as negatives, to a team. This latter method is much preferred by those on the receiving end in order for the team to understand what is being said and, more importantly, what is expected of them.

We have all worked with and known people for whom the use of a smile, a compassionate gesture or a little humor at the right time and place is about as rare as politicians treating each other with respect during a debate. Businesspeople are not elected politicians trying to get votes by speaking the unspeakable with Armageddon undertones.

If you’re the boss, ask yourself if you hear what you’re saying and how you’re delivering the message. Do you need a self-prescribed attitude adjustment and a makeover of your style? If a subordinate projected a managing mad style, you would certainly provide the necessary coaching and counseling. However, if you fear you need this type of tune-up, how can you do it without losing face by asking peers or other trusted associates for a no-holds-barred critique?

There is an easy and effective way to accomplish this self-assessment. Surreptitiously record your next talk to the troops, even a phone conference call or a one-on-one session. Most smartphones have this feature. Before listening to your recording and evaluating your delivery, wait a few hours or until the next day so that you can listen more objectively, being a bit more removed from the heat of the moment. Close your door and use a mirror to watch your own expression as you listen to yourself. You’ll immediately know by what you hear and by your expressions in the mirror if you fall into the managing mad trap. Once you’re done, take a deep breath and then quickly jot down your own impressions, including the tone, choice of words and substance of the message. The big question becomes, “If you were the audience, would you buy what you’re selling?”

If you decide you need improvements, and we all do, use the same voice recorder before you give your next battle cry and rehearse a few times using the device to capture your delivery. Also, do these trial runs in front of a mirror so you can see yourself as others will see you.

When you introspectively examine your technique, you may not like what you discover. However, after the shock of realizing you’ve been managing Mad, you can quickly begin transforming your style, not to morph into a likable wimp but instead to become a thoughtful and effective leader whom others will eagerly listen to and then follow. To get results, it’s sometimes not what you say but how you say it.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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