The Stupid Management Lesson Of A Harvard Professor
What is the foundation of authority?
Found on Twitter, this quote from Deborah Gruenfeld, professor of social psychology at Harvard University: “If you are trying to be approachable at the same time you’re trying to be authoritative, you are neither.”
This is the dumbest management advice I’ve read in some time. It states in effect that authority is only accessible by distance. That may be true when teaching from the pulpit – and, still, this seems completely at odds with the American pedagogical approach.
This is certainly totally wrong in the world of management. Authority is not based on distance but on experience, intelligence, technical skill, eloquence, charisma, and trust. Of all these qualities, none is acquired or developed with distance.
Furthermore, management is a human activity: It’s not about a distant boss giving orders to robots that will execute them mechanically. As in any human relationship, managers must instead demonstrate listening, empathy, and dialogue. As a matter of fact, these qualities degrade with distance.
The best way to be authoritative is through influence. When a manager is reduced to giving orders rather than explanations in order to convince employees to do something, they negatively affect their employees’ motivation. Human beings are animals who need to understand the meaning of their actions. Obviously, the exception to this principle concerns the situations in which managers must resolve a conflict or decide among several options offered to them.
But, even in these situations, distance doesn’t bring anything other than frustration.