How Managers Matter in a Healthy Culture

I am straying from our normal Sunday Koa Kākou m.o. today, because I want to share something with you while it is so fresh in mind.

Let’s talk about why managers matter

We are hearing the “L word” quite a bit lately, whether in boardrooms, on the evening news, or in the market when we run into friends and neighbors. We hear it because of the “R word” —the current economic recession. The “L word” is layoff.

Those of you who are now following @sayalakai on Twitter, would have seen my encouragement that you visit a brilliant article by a leadership consultant and author I greatly admire, Dan Oestreich. Dan wrote an article he called Reflective Leadership in the Age of Layoffs which starts this way:

“Most managers I know do not feel they’ve actually been given much guidance about how to proceed with cost cutting and, particularly, layoffs. As the first line of a recent Harvard Business Review article asks, “Why aren’t layoffs taught as a subject at business school?” I assume the reason is that the subject is both very complex and comes far too close to what it really means to lead, touching that sensitive cross-over point between personal values and professional conduct, a place where theory definitely has its limits.

We are so conditioned now around the word itself: layoffs. It induces deep anxiety””

I hope you will visit Dan’s site, Unfolding Leadership, to read the rest of what he shares about “reflective leadership.” Employee engagement expert David Zinger calls the article “the best blog post I have read all year.”

Do not expect a quick read: On the contrary, grab your personal journal at the same time and plan on sitting with your thoughts, for if you are a leader facing the prospect of layoffs in your own business, the article will likely take you on quite a reflective journey. It will be a Sunday well spent in learning, and in exploration of your personal values. While I am likely more extreme in my habits, for I think by writing, I had pages written and a night to sleep on them before I could even manage to comment for Dan in a fairly concise manner ”“ you will see my add there.

You may choose to read even more. Yesterday Dan added another find for us via Twitter: Links to what he called an “incredible, inspiring story about avoiding layoffs at a Boston hospital:” A Head with a Heart reported by the Boston Globe. Dan also pointed us to the hospital CEO’s blog: Running a Hospital by Paul Levy.

Up to this point, this has been back-story to what I want to convey to you today. I thought it was important because I agree with Dan, and I realize leaders need to find some good resources for that “deep anxiety” they are feeling (as of this writing, there are 818 comments on the Boston Globe story). Leaders cannot be the “energy creators” we talk about here in the context of Alaka‘i leadership, when anxiety is a drain on their own energies.

The Role of the Manager

And what about managers? I want to focus on the manager who forges a strong partnership with an organization’s leader, the manager who channels that good leadership energy a healthy business will thrive on, into productive, fulfilling, and meaningful work.

A point of clarity: Please keep in mind that I define managing and leading as complementary behaviors here to give us a consistent vocabulary when we talk about them. A single person can both manage and lead: They are self-disciplines. I do not consider management and leadership to be titles or positions on an organizational chart. If you are new to Say “Alaka‘i” you may want to read more at this reference point: Management vs. Leadership: Power up your vocabulary!

I am seeing something very distressing as a result of when layoffs are happening, with their various results painfully and visibly apparent. This is Say “Alaka‘i,” and I am an eager, vocal advocate for great management, and so there is one layoff result in particular that pains me like Hawaiian salt being rubbed into a bleeding wound.

Layoffs are illustrating more clearly than ever before, that many organizations have very little idea as to what the Role of the Manager should be.

When layoffs happen, we are seeing managers being plugged into new vacancies like gum being used to caulk the cracked hull of a sinking ship. Sometimes the managers are the ones who are being laid off, for they earn the higher salaries and accompanying benefit costs, and surely, if they were largely babysitters before anyway, maybe we won’t need them now that the staff who still remain are so grateful they still have their jobs to hang on to” everyone’s crumbling entitlement mentality has been one silver lining in all this, and they’ll work harder than before to compensate.

‘Auwe. Harsh? Or harsh but bitterly true?

Managers matter. When layoffs happen, you will need your managers even more than you ever did before IF your managers had the role they were supposed to be working within in a healthy organizational culture in the first place:

1. People: Managers concentrate on strengths and make weaknesses irrelevant.

Managers discover what strengths each of the people they manage possess. They then place people where they are called on to employ those strengths and capitalize on them, giving them the authority to completely own their responsibilities and perform brilliantly.

2. Place: Managers create great workplaces where people thrive.

Managers focus on creating an environment where rewarding work happens. They continually work to remove obstacles (such as negativity), barriers, and excuses, while adding the needed support, tools and resources. Great managers are the stewards of healthy organizational cultures.

3. Mission: Managers get the work to make perfect sense.

Managers connect the work to be done with the meaning why. They plan to succeed with a viable business model, so people always see realistic possibility, and they encourage people to work on the enterprise with them, not just within it.

4. Vision: Managers expect and promote the exceptional.

Great managers never settle for mediocrity; they champion excellence so people rise to the occasion. Managers lead too; they mentor and coach, harnessing energy and driving action. They foster sequential and consequential learning so people continue to grow.

If not, yeah, you probably won’t even notice your managers are gone. There will soon be very little remnants left of a surviving business which deserves to employ them anyway. For again, managers are the stewards of a healthy organizational culture.

Great management, the management which truly matters in good times and in not so good times, is a calling. It takes a personal and professional calling to work on shaping and maintaining a healthy organizational culture where people can do their best possible work, work which is values-centered, mission-driven, and customer-focused toward achieving a critically important vision.

As I had commented for Dan, we in business underestimate the ‘net worth and asset’ of good health in our organizational culture far too often. It’s the intangible that is crystal clear when it is missing. My first sign that it may be missing in your business, is when I see this misunderstanding of the role managers must seize to work within and own completely, understanding how critically important it is. If you value your organizational culture, you value your managers.

The Role of the Manager is a core concept in the Managing with Aloha sensibility for Ho‘ohana work. If you would like to read more, I offer you an article from my archives at Managing with Aloha Coaching which was written from the standpoint of comparing people and process: The Role of the Manager Reconstructed.

And here’s the rub:

Ӣ People can fix broken processes.

Ӣ Processes cannot fix broken-in-spirit people.

Ӣ Break the spirit of your managers, and you fall even farther behind.

The simple, glaring fact is that the Role of the Manager has to change from how it now exists in the vast majority of workplaces as I write these words. Current case in point: The “R word” and the “L word.”

If you are a manager with a calling, stand up for yourself. Believe in your own worth. And please know I am here for you.

Let’s talk story.

Comment here, or via the tweet-conversation we have on Twitter @sayalakai.

More reading from the Say “Alaka‘i” archives:

Alaka‘i Archive Love: February 2009 Update

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” ~
How Managers Matter in a Healthy Culture

Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching

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  1. says

    I feel very honored, Rosa, by how you’ve used my post as a springboard to your own great thoughts about the value of managers and a healthy culture. Your four points about the role of managers are elegantly stated, and I agree wholeheartedly that too often managerial work is easily misunderstood or undervalued. Framing it as you have, to manage well does become a calling more than a stepping stone of career advancement. I have been lucky enough in my life to know a few managers for whom that calling was present. They can be quite unassuming people who happen to be very good at human being as well as technical being. I think of a woman who sees herself symbolically a kind of “choir director” for the various voices in her department. I think of another, a man who serves as a master translater between an especially harsh senior management world and the group of devoted associates who report to him. These people see their value in handling the daily emergency and live for the service they know they can provide. They never lose humility or their desire to learn. One of the people I also think of is in an industry, highly specialized, where many employees typically come to work with a negative bias against management from years of contentious labor/management disputes — which appears to be the industry standard. But in this manager’s unit it is different. “Some of these folks come to my team,” he told me one day, “it’s just painful how negative and cynical they’ve become. Sometimes it takes me two years or so to help someone understand that I’m not the enemy and that I will personally support them; two years of sending that individual positive messages about what’s possible, before they can turn around.”
    I think of the utter stamina that such coaching takes, the patience, the long-term belief in people.
    The word for these managers, the ones called, is “treasure.”

  2. says

    How do you use your manager?

    ~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” April 2009 ~ How do you use your manager? Asked another way, How useful is your boss? I had an interesting conversation with a young man yesterday about all the drama going on where…