Computers, pruning shears and pens

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Technology is providing managers with unprecedented ability to mismanage. Technology now allows managers to measure, monitor and control business activities to a degree unthought of thirty years ago. This should be good news. Except that vetting every email, monitoring every phone call and measuring the results of every action are hardly consistent with the brave new world of trust and empowerment that is the current management `a la mode.

The Ottomans understood trust empowerment: the Emperor would send trusted lieutenants to govern distant provinces. They did not have to report on the weekly variation in grain stocks. If they did well, they were rewarded. If they failed, the Emperor sent his head gardener to prune their heads. Managing a business inSlough is not as complicated as managing Egypt or the Balkans.

Technology has also become a favourite of one minute managers: they send the motivational email to tell someone they have done a good job. They motivational email is as likely as the motivational tax return. In contrast, one leader still sends staff occasional hand written notes with hand written envelopes and old fashioned stamps. That commands more attention and respect than the daily deluge of 100 emails. But she also takes the time to go around stores more or less endlessly: seeing staff and finding out what is really happening on the ground.

Ultimately, leadership is an engagement sport. You have to make contact with people directly: you must listen to them and watch them as much as talk to them. It is also a team sport. Smart leaders know they can not know everything, so they build a team which complements their own strengths. They do not try to play goalkeeper, sweeper and striker all at the same time.

Now all I need is my quill pen and pruning shears…

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