“What could this old coot have to say to me?” Your (younger) Business Professor was invited to lunch by a grizzled senior Army officer of a certain age. The aged blowhard wanted to talk.
I was indifferent. He was buying the meal, but I wasn’t buying his banter. Who needed him? I would run things my way. The ‘Modern Way.’
Today, the smart small business trend is to coach the managers that businesses need — to take advantage of growth.
Young, aspiring business leaders have a lot to learn in managing a small business. Too much has to be learned in too short a time. Professor Henry Mintzberg, from McGill University in Quebec, Canada, has written a must-read book, “Managing.” He provides a daunting list of challenges for owner/manager training:
- The unrelenting pace of managing
- The brevity and variety of its activities
- The fragmentation and discontinuity of the job
- The orientation to action
- The favoring of informal and oral forms of communication
- The lateral nature of the job (with colleagues and associates)
- The covert more than overt nature of control in the job.
“Managing,” Mintzberg says, “is neither a science nor a profession; it is a practice, learned primarily through experience.”
This experiential knowledge can be obtained or accelerated in one of three avenues: a) Direct experience, b) In-house sponsors, and
c) Independent-outside mentors.
The first is on-the-job-training by personally doing the work of supervising. All small business owners will do this. This is how we learn management. But this is time-intensive with too many errors, too many mistakes. And a do-it-yourself project is not time-scalable.
Even this learn-by-doing requires deliberate planning. Drew Hendricks, a tech and social media expert, warns: “Every facet of your business requires a plan, from your weekly lunch meetings to your interactions with clients. This means setting training goals…”
The owner and manager can learn by experience. But even this ‘random’ learning must be planned.
Second, we can be born into a family company of sponsors. Or adopted. The aspiring manager can get training by picking (or establishing) a dynasty with benign patriarchal/matriarchal values. This is often seen in the informal board of advisors. The role of a sponsor is to teach, to guide, to champion.
When the small business owner gets the advice, this wise counsel must be repeatedly reinforced.
Tom Reddon, who sits on the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA) Executive Dialogue team, writes: “Training is the backbone of workplace success, safety, and performance … [and these] acquired skills are retained… through continuous training.”
Or third, it can be bought. Knowledge can be purchased on the open market as Dr. Peter Drucker explains: “Most of us do exactly what our ancestors did, only so many more of us are required. And that’s why we now have business schools.
“A hundred years ago, we required a very small number of naturals who came up in the school of hard knocks. And the trouble with the school of hard knocks is that the knocks are so hard, the casualty rates are very great, and we can’t afford to lose that many.
“That’s why we have schools, which are basically a protection, a protective device.”
Oddly, as Professor Mintzberg writes, managing and management training is the reverse of academia. He writes: “To be superficial is an occupational hazard of managerial work, certainly compared with the specialized work most managers did before they went into this job.
“To succeed, managers have to become proficient at their superficiality.
“It has been said that an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until finally he or she knows everything about nothing.
“The manager’s problem is the opposite: knowing less and less about more and more until finally he or she knows nothing about everything.”
Age or the lack of family or formal schooling is not a barrier to management success. The management training lesson is simple in this small business trend: Find that mentor, an advisor who can be a guide. Rent one if necessary.
The ‘Modern Way’ was a passing fad and became trite and unworkable. Decades passed and I finally figured out what that aged sourpuss was doing: The sage was upholding the sound business tradition of succession using the wisdom of the ages. He was teaching the next generation of leaders.
Over the years, many of his wise words on running an organization would come back to me. I never did thank the old codger. Youth seldom does.
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