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Managing your manager

Recently I was staying at an hotel which happened to be hosting a large conference. For once I was neither organising it nor even taking part in it. Therefore, in the morning, I could go to breakfast at a ‘normal’ time and had no need to rush.

This did mean, however, that I arrived at the breakfast venue almost at the busiest time. This was not an issue for me, as my first meeting was not until something like 09:30. But it did mean that the hotel staff had to be on their toes, and many of them had to be in two places at the same time.

In an obvious attempt to assist his staff, the catering manager had left his office and was at the front desk, ushering people in the queue towards tables. Let’s just say this was clearly not a job he was either used to or trained for. His enthusiasm and keenness to ease the burden of his staff meant he was circumventing their essential, well thought-out processes. Guests were sitting down without the senior staff on the door knowing which hotel room they occupied and, thus, who should be charged for breakfast. And potential VIPs or those with particular needs may well have been seated at incorrect or inappropriate tables.

After only a short while, the head waiter took her manager aside and politely, but firmly, asked him to stop ‘helping’ in this way, and suggested that he might like to keep a constant eye on the state of the buffet and let the kitchen know when supplies of any items got low. This released one of her staff who did know what she was doing and eased the process.

If you’re wondering how I know what the head waiter said to her boss, it’s because I got chatting to her later over a cup of tea.

This all got me thinking. The head waiter demonstrated an excellent skill – managing her manager. Not only did her competence enable her to allocate a useful job to him, but also gave her the resolution to tell him that he needed to stop ‘helping’ in the way he was.

As an officer cadet in the Royal Navy, you are taught from the start that you should not expect a junior to do something that you cannot or would not do yourself. Equally, if you require a junior to do something technical that you are either not trained for or for which you lack the suitable skills, you should discuss the task with the junior to understand their needs and the process involved, so that you can manage them appropriately.

Thus, the intervention I saw in the hotel, where a manager was efficiently managed, highlighted the two key aspects of the lesson I learned.

Don’t be afraid to tell your manager if you think they are hindering you or think you are offending some sensitivity – it is possible that you may be unaware of other factors that need the manager to take this course of action, despite it adversely affecting your work. Learn to explain to your manager where anything for which you are responsible can be improved in such a way that he or she can take further actions to your mutual benefit.

And for those of us who manage? Well, we need to remember not only don’t we know everything about the responsibilities and jobs we manage, but also as my Granny used to say (constantly to me) “Remember, God gave you two eyes, two ears and only one mouth. Use them in those proportions”. God bless you Gran, you were a great manager of your family.

Græme Gordon is the executive director, Praxity

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