July 21, 2006
I Wanna Be Your Manager
I’ve had lots of conversations about management this week. Not the management, of course—in case my boss is reading this. I’ve actually been discussing the concept of management—as a challenge, as a calling—with some friends of mine.
*One friend used to manage a team of people, but his new responsibilities have him working mostly on his own.
Meanwhile, my wife and I are doing some soul-searching to figure out what the next season of our lives is going to be like. She’s a manager, and I can barely manage to stay awake, so her vision-quest is taking on a very different character from mine. Still, I find the idea of management pretty intriguing.
Organizations often group people according to task, and then stack them according to tenure or job experience. That makes sense to me—the person on top is most likely to have already done what everybody else can’t figure out how to do—but what if the person on top is a jerk, or a recluse, or a werewolf, or whatever? What if that person’s tenure came through well-timed acts of character assassination and kissing up to the boss? It’s not all about the steady execution of tasks; the atmosphere that a team operates in is established at least in part by the manager, and I for one would find it hard to breathe with someone like that stacked on top of me.
On the flip side, some people train specifically for management and find jobs in industries they know nothing about: they take care of the people so the people can take care of the work. That seems pretty dis-integrated to me—why would you willingly subject yourself to work you’re not passionate about?—except that the people best suited to that type of job are passionate about managing people. One friend of mine has switched industries two or three times and supervised a team of people at each place; he finds meaning not in the product his work is pumping out so much as the act of management. To hear him talk about it, his staff—even the ones he’s had to discipline from time to time—are like his family.
I read an article earlier this year that profiled a department store chaplain. I’d never heard of such a thing. This woman walks the aisles of her store with an eye toward helping people find what they need. Could be customers, could be customer servicepeople. In some cases what they need is toilet paper or a tennis bracelet, but every so often they need someone to give them a break or lend them an ear or offer them up in prayer. This chaplain is practicing the ministry of what Henri Nouwen once called “pastoral presence.”
I wonder if the role of a manager is at least one part chaplain. You can train yourself to do it, I’m sure, but I suspect that it’s at least one part instinctive: you either want to be pastorally present to people, or you don’t.