How to Manage and Lead People


By Troy Headrick

I didn’t publish a blog here last week.  I kept coming up with possible topics, but none of them felt right for one reason or another.  I’m getting better and better at trusting that little voice inside that says, “Wait, Troy, something feels wrong about this.  Be patient.  You’ll know it—very viscerally—when the right idea presents itself.”

So I waited.  And this morning, when driving in to work, the RIGHT IDEA did present itself.  And I just knew that I needed to write the post that follows.

I’m a manager.  The people I manage—I don’t really have to “manage” them because they don’t need me to tell them what to do and how to be effective—are talented and extraordinarily bright.  They are self-starters too.  I’m blessed to be working with such people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to manage people and what good management looks like.  These are topics of great important because all of us, at one time or another, will find that we’ve been put in charge of something.  We’ll find that we’ve either taken on the role of leader or had that role foisted upon us.

I’ve also been thinking about good management quite a bit lately because I’ve seen plenty of bad management.  None of us want to be bad managers.  Bad management can actually hurt people, and none of us ever willing wants to do harm.

There is this old way of thinking that goes something like this:  Managers have to be strong.  They have to run a tight ship.  They have to make sure that no one breaks the rules or goofs off.  Such thinking is based on several premises, all of which need to be critically scrutinized.  First of all, there is only one way that strength can manifest itself.  Secondly, those under our management are naturally prone to stray away from the straight and narrow unless we watch them like hawks.

Several years ago, back when I was teaching at the renowned Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, I was asked to create an interesting hybrid course with a professor in the Department of Philosophy.  As a result, I was given the opportunity to teach some wonderful “Great Books.”  One book we taught was On Duties by Cicero.

Cicero—a fellow who knew something about managing people and what skillful leadership looks like—said there are two ways to manage and lead.  Method one involves the use of fear.  A leader can actively work to have those she is managing fear her.  This will be effective (for a time), but such a method comes with a risk.  The first time such a leader turns her back, she is likely to find a knife stuck into it, which means that the power she thinks she has is really illusory.  Method two relies heavily on the use of love and respect.  If a manager loves and respects those she is leading, they will follow her anywhere and all the time.  Plus, a loving and respectful manager will never have to worry about any sort of uprising.  The power such a leader has is absolute without being tyrannical.  Such a manager and leader is really omnipotent but not exploitative.

Here’s something we can all take to the bank:  We get from others what we give to them.  If we distrust others, they will likely distrust us.  When we give kindness and respect, we get kindness and respect in return.  If we treat people like professionals, they will behave professionally.

Perhaps I’m being too naïve here?  What do you think?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.



19 thoughts on “How to Manage and Lead People

  1. I’m not a manager, but I’ve been an employee in several places. I’ve had managers who micromanaged – who got all up in my business about every detail of what I was doing, who wanted to know why I was two minutes late coming in, who made me feel like I was in danger of losing my job if I used my accrued leave to tend to a sick child. Those types of managers never inspired me to do a better job. In fact, those are the ones that inspired me to start sending out resumes in hopes of finding something better. I’ve also had managers who considered that we were all part of the same team, working together to benefit the workplace as a whole, and who understood that sometimes life happens outside the office walls. Those are the ones I wanted to do my best for, to put in the extra effort – the ones who trusted that I was an adult and a professional, and that I would get my work done timely even if traffic had me five or ten minutes late once in a while.

    1. Hi, and thanks for the comment. Like you, I’ve had both type of managers. When I became a manager myself, I vowed I would remember and put into practice Cicero’s wise advise. Bad managers seem not to understand the concept of “morale.” Bad managers seem not to realize that they can literally kill morale by the way the run their workplace. When morale dies, what sort of incentive do employees have to do their best work (or to even care). Uninspired people do uninspired work. This is psychology 101. There’s a saying that I’ve heard over the years that seems apropos: “Happy wife, happy life.” In this context, we could say, “Happy employees, happy boss.”

    1. Yes! Good management begins even at the hiring process. Managers need to remember that trust is a good portion of what is required of them. If a manager distrusts those who work with him–I don’t really want to say “under” him–what sort of workplace environment does that create?

    1. Thank you. There’s lots of wisdom in The Golden Rule. Quality of life for all of us, in all the situations we find ourselves in, would increase so dramatically if we simply kept that one simple rule in mind at all times.

  2. I manage people at my work. My philosophy is not to be hard on my people. I found that strategy be great in the sense that IF or when I have to get rid of them, I don’t feel bad about it because I know I’ve been more than fair to them

    1. There are certainly times when things don’t work out with people at work for one reason or another. I have never had to fire anyone. I find that if I sit down with an employee and have a heartfelt conversation about his performance and the things going on in his life, we can always work things out. I actually take a whole-person approach when working with people. Often times, poor performance at work has nothing to do with a person not wanting to do his job well. It’s that there’s something at play that is keeping him distracted. If we address the underlying cause, the symptom of his poor performance at his job will resolve itself. Management is “human” activity. We have to remember that. We are dealing with human beings in all their complexity. I thank you very much for sharing your story. You sound like the kind of boss one would certainly want to work for.

  3. Hi there Troy – I totally agree with how you summed everything up. There will always be those folks who are considered the “outliers”; but for the most part, those individuals that a leader leads are indicative of the leader that they follow (the leadership they receive).

    1. I really meant what I said when I wrote that we get from others what we give to them. This is psychology 101. It’s true in the workplace. It’s true in marriages. It’s true among friends. The best managers understand this. So they get exactly what they want by being “givers” themselves. If a manager or takes or punishes or treats others with indifference, he should expect those he manages to be takers, punitive, and indifferent. Thank you so much for your comment.

  4. I’m a huge fan of lead by example. I’ve also had micromanagers, like bunkie68, who made me want to run screaming from the building. They did not help my mental health at all, which is not to say they are solely to blame, but they definitely didn’t make things better. I’ve had managers who would help me start a car, or understood that when my son was home on a surprise leave, THAT was more important to me than being at work.
    The few times I’ve been in a position of leadership, I’ve found it far easier to be respectful and trusting of those I’m working with. Yes, sometimes, there needs to be corrections made. That doesn’t mean it has to be a battle, it can be a discussion or education.
    Another great article – thank you!

    1. Thank you, Liz, for sharing your story and for leaving another great comment. One of the key jobs of the manager is to educate. Many managers like to bark orders but that is not educating. Maybe I’m too trusting, but most people, its seems, want to do well at their jobs (and to be good people). Some simply don’t know how to do/be those things though. The job of the manager then is discuss and educate, to serve as a role model. (I liked what you said about leading by example.) That’s so true. Back when I was a full-time educator, I would often teach by demonstrating what I wanted students to do. When giving instructions, it is a mistake to simply assume that people understand what you are asking them to do. The more I think about all this, the more I realize that the real job of the manager is to teach. This part of the job is often overlooked.

  5. Although now retired, I had the good fortune early in my career to be ‘managed’ by excellent leaders from whom I learned a great deal. So, when it was my turn first to manage a group of people in a mid-sized company, then advise managers as the HR Director in the same company and lastly manage a small consulting company; I knew that leading by example was the best way to gain respect. I agree with you that the real job of a manager is to teach…which is likely why the last role I had in my career was as a teacher in the business area of a community college. There is nothing as rewarding as teaching a group of new supervisors and managers who are thirsty for knowledge on how they can be successful. On the topic of firing, I found that in the few cases where I did terminate the employment of an individual in every case other employees came and thanked me. They knew I had given the terminated employee every chance to change or improve and felt they had to leave for the sake of the remaining team. Great topic.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story and insights about management. If managers are to err, I think they should do so on the side of being humane. Educating others is not the same thing as dictating to others. I’m glad that you worked under some really good managers during your career, but there are some really bad ones out there, a reality I’m sure you’re aware of. I’m talking about the sort who don’t know the difference between educating and dictating to. I may be wrong about this, but because it wasn’t that long ago in America when management was more male-dominated, this notion that “good management” requires a kind of male swagger still persists. To manage, then, according to this old (yet persistent) model, is to dominate, is to be aggressive, is be hyper-masculine. Another important thing I’m learning about managing and leading is that one size certainly does not fit all. By that I mean, all employees are individuals and thus a good manager must understand the strengths of each employee and play to those. Good managers really get to know those they lead and let each individual play a role that is most natural to that person.

      1. Oh, trust me, I’ve seen some really bad managers – both male and female. One thing I found, particularly in younger newly-appointed ones is that they seemed to believe that meant they had to ‘boss’ people to demonstrate their power. Typically that happens when organizations take the best ‘whatever’ and make them the boss not realizing it’s a different skill set.

      2. Unfortunately, some people think “power” when they think of management (or when they become managers). And not all people handle power well. Plus, Gandhi was a very powerful man. There is more than one way to be powerful. Cicero understood what power is and how to get and use it to lead.

  6. As a manager/leader, the key elements to me are: clearly communicating expectations/job requirements, responding to feedback appropriately, and being transparent and accountable for faults. Also, did you get my email?

    1. Hi. I did get your email. (I’ll got back and find it.) I decided to go offline during the holiday season and was mostly successful in achieving this goal. Unfortunately, that made me late on replying to a bunch of comments and such. I’m back now and will do my best to rejoin the blog. Take care.

  7. I know we are all a work in progress. A phrase I read in one of my own articles was “servantking’, there is no space between this compound word as I comprehend it to be the type of leader who is first and always a servant. This is best taught in the story of Christ who came humble and served. He was not punished or ridiculed for being a leader, but a servant. It was his progress and productive nature that got the talking heads upset. I had to realize not everyone despises the status quo, and as a work in progress to discern and act as a servantking, I keep a level of human sovereignty as I crown myself in my fields of study. When we practice that the servant aspect is no less than the master and the master is no greater than the servant, we maintain equilibrium and count on the best from those who mirror us as teamplayers. Having a level of humanity visible in front of the team allows them to contribute with protection to their workplace or home environment. When we see ourselves as exclusively one or the other (servant or king), we become lopsided and look to another to fill the empty role. My left and right hands are my servantking respectively. One supports, while the other leads. In some ways I am “even handed” but in other situations, I must lean on my non-dominant hand to support my right hand of authority. I am happy to know we are waking up to our individual accountability to self-mastery to operate our internal systems and depending on the everlasting ARMS of the Creator to navigate us back to kingdom principles. Like king, like citizines, we are Won!

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