Young Managers Can Learn from Old Sayings


Old Sayings are Often Gold Sayings

Yes, that hackneyed phrase was as hard to type as it is to read, but I used it to illustrate a point: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; you do reap what you sow; and actions do speak louder than words.

Is it just me, or do we reject old sayings out of hand until we become old ourselves?

While none of these three sayings originated in the workplace, they all can and do apply to situations managers face everyday. Moreover, as most every business in the world is facing a tough road ahead, these and many other old sayings are proving more true by the minute.

A lesser known and less mature old saying – you either change the people or you change the people – should become so ingrained in every manager’s brain that they begin to say it in their sleep.

Tough Times Call for Bold Action

The single worst trait most young managers possess is the desire to be liked. Because of this, they are often reluctant to make hard decisions (or take bold action) – even in tough times.

They work very hard to change the people, but fail miserably to change the people if they cannot change the people. When faced with adversity in business, leaders must either change the people or change the people.

There are no exceptions to this rule… and this is where most first-time managers fail.

Whether due to an overdose of compassion or a fear of disapproval, young managers have trouble pulling the trigger on underperformers. They will stall, capitulate or even accept poor performance from a handful of their charges if it means avoiding confrontation and endangering their popularity.

Leadership is not a Popularity Contest

Leadership, in fact, is often quite lonely. For those of you who are afraid of making the tough decisions right now, take a few minutes and complete a brief exercise.

  • Jot down your goals, your company’s goals and a few of the interim steps you and your company will take before you realize all of the goals.
  • Scenario One: Imagine that the economic downturn has already bottomed and that we are on our way up. Imagine it is six months from now and unemployment is at 5%, the Dow is firmly above 11,000, and credit is flowing freely.
  • Scenario Two: Imagine it is six months from now and unemployment sits at 15%, the Dow rests at 6,300, credit tightens to the extent that your company cannot borrow, and you are forced to lay off 50% of your workforce. 

What happened to your goals and your company’s goals in Scenario One? You probably reached many of the short term goals and are well on your way to reaching your long term goals.

Now, let’s examine what happened in Scenario Two: likely, you are far from your goals, your company is close to bankruptcy, and you are probably included in the 50% of your workforce that will soon be unemployed.

Complacency is the Enemy of Success

As leaders, we cannot count on external factors (like the economy) to always go in our favor. Anyone can manage when times are good. True leadership is often hard to spot when sales are up, profits are high and everyone is smiling.

If the recent problems in your industry have taught you nothing else, they should have displayed for you in living color the difference between the leaders and the pretenders. Now is the time to rid yourself of the pretenders: either you change the people or you change the people. Doing nothing is not an option.

Time for Change

Start by working to change the people. Identify your lowest performers, provide them with the tools and the training necessary to do their jobs, and give them firm expectations.

If this fails, then change the people.

The greatest benefit of economic crisis is the cleansing that ultimately takes place. Call it “Business Darwinism” or simply market forces at work; the fittest will survive. If you fail to change the people, you can rest assured that you will not be counted among the fittest.