Everything changes; people age, technology advances, and companies grow and fail. Whether a manager remains at one company for years or changes jobs frequently, he or she needs to remain aware of changes in business methods. Sophisticated use of personal computers is a prime example of this need to respond to new realities.
Before the advent of the personal computer, the executive had a secretary who typed letters. If an executive wanted to review a report, it was prepared and brought in by a subordinate. If changes were needed, the subordinate left and returned with the changes the manager requested.
However, the introduction first of the IBMdesktop business machines in the 1970s and then the logical progression to the personal computer in the early 1980s shifted much of the responsibility for creating and manipulating data directly to the manager. Managers who could not type (after all, that was clerical work) suddenly found themselves confronted by a keyboard. Those with no mechanical aptitude found that they were expected to transfer their handwritten operations to a complex machine. For some, the computer was a breakthrough that expanded their ability to manage. For others, it was an object of fear.
A staple requirement for most managers today is fluency on a number of computer applications. Many managers are expected to perform data modeling, financial analysis, graphic design, and sophisticated word processing on their computers, as well as search the Internet or perform other online research. Client/server technology, through which any computer within a corporate network can access and manipulate data from a central database, has caused many managers to learn query techniques that formerly were the exclusive domain of computer programmers.
Adapting to change and viewing new experiences as positive are vital to avoiding job boredom, skills obsolescence, and performance deterioration. As we learn more about human and procedural deterioration and see how they affect people and things, we understand better what must be done to reactivate ourselves.
Here are a few generalizations that may serve as brief guidelines:
- Some people are more aware of change than others. Some try to retool as needed by acquiring new knowledge, reviewing their goals, and preparing for changes that loom ahead. They try to keep their careers from going to seed.
- Time passes quickly, and unless you do some long-range planning, you may be caught unprepared. So think about what the future holds for you; anticipate and plan ahead.
- An important factor is to keep yourself mentally alert. Open minds open doors to new ideas, new lifestyles, new solutions, and new perspectives. Some people associate the inability to change with aging, but people do not need to fall into mental stupors as they age. In order not to do so, however, they must exercise, eat right, and retain the ability to learn by doing new things, meeting new people, and being with people who try to stay mentally alert.
- Avoid being lulled by comfortable habits and old attitudes. Life is more fulfilling for those who stay mentally alert by trying new things and staying open to change. Furthermore, in the age of downsizing and "rightsizing," those that adhere to the old habits are often shown the door.
- Everything you do reflects habits, skills, and attitudes that were years in the making. They are part of your lifestyle and personal philosophy. A basic problem of self-renewal is to keep from growing stale and living in the past. Everyone has this problem when fighting personal obsolescence. Everyone has the problem of growing "barnacles" derived from family tradition and past experiences.
The dictionary defines maturity as a state of perfect or complete development. To reach such a state is surely a goal of self-renewal because this is the type of maturity we look for in leaders. Maturity means that one has grown up so as to be an asset to the human race. A mature person should be able to handle events at home and at work with the least possible amount of stress.
Maturity is associated with age. People are supposed to be wiser and more sensible as they get older because they have had more experience. Everything ages with time, but it does not necessarily follow that a person is better or wiser merely because of age. The type of maturity looked for in business leaders is a companion to good mental health, and not just part of the aging process. Maturity carries with it the capacity to accept courageously disappointments that are beyond our control, to endure illness, to accept ourselves and others with tolerance, and to keep on an even keel-through success as well as failure. This type of maturity develops gradually-through experience and the ability to handle exasperating situations without creating enemies.
Continuing education can help us acquire maturity, but education is only part of the preparation. Everyone faces situations for which education alone does not prepare them. Nor do so-called adult education programs ensure maturity, although self-renewal is one object of adult education. Enthusiasm, courage, reliability, humility, self-appraisal-all these things and more contribute to maturity.
An early sign of maturity is the ability to meet unexpected situations without falling apart, to "roll with the punches" without looking for someone to blame. Each situation offers opportunities for mature or immature responses. Some of us learn from such opportunities, but others do not.
Maturity is a very important leadership characteristic and should be a self-renewal goal. Those in leadership positions, from presidents of corporations down to line supervisors, must be mature enough to provide the stability that we associate with wholesome leadership. To help others grow is a high-level human relations activity. It takes mature people to lead.
Take the opportunity to learn from those around you in developing role models and assessing your own maturity. There will always be plentiful opportunities to observe others, assess their levels of maturity in handling situations, and compare them to your own. An honest appraisal of your behavior in stressful situations will help you to keep track of your development. In a very short time, you will have amassed enough experience to be aware of your own developing maturity. Learning from your own mistakes and from your own growth is a part of developing maturity, and the opportunity is open to all of us, as long as we remain open to change.
The inability to adapt to change is a principal cause of stress. Stress among managers may also result from high performance expectations, staffing restrictions, personal problems, and a variety of other reasons.
A certain amount of stress is expected by anyone who works, and this stress is normal. An employee who is not experiencing some stress probably is not working hard enough. However, excessive stress may harm work productivity and even damage health.
Many organizations are consulting psychologists about the problem and are sponsoring stress seminars for their employees. Some organizations are even being sued by employees who contend that their work was unduly stressful.
Most stress consultants are psychologists. Some are known as psychotherapists. Although Robert Pater is not a psychologist, his advice to managers who are responsible for personnel programs summarizes very well suggestions for coping with the problem within the corporation.
- Set up a unified approach to organizational stress management by providing avenues for listening to and, where possible, correcting employee concerns. The distinguishing factor between employees who brood and blame their employer for all of their problems and those who leave gracefully or seek professional help is that the "claimers" tend to be people of low self-esteem who feel that they were not treated well and not listened to by their employer.
- Decide what types of stress are specific to your organization and what types aren't. Do you have a planned approach to responding to all stress claims? Such an approach should correspond to your sexual harassment and age discrimination policies.
- Get input regarding organizational stress management and claims reduction from all bargaining units, representative employees, top managers, and supervisors.
- Train personnel in stress management skills, including the importance to the bottom line. Train supervisors how to recognize signs of harmful stress, how it affects productivity and absenteeism, and how to deal with employees suffering from stress. Train employees, too, in stress management skills.
- Develop an ongoing support program. Provide for an employee assistance program; train employees as stress management trainers or peer counselors, "courts of first resort." One-shot training is of minimal use unless it is followed up.
- Be more cautious in screening and hiring employees. Look for a good fit. Sometimes, in a buyer's market, a "good buy"-an overqualified new hire-can be a setup for problems. It's also generally unwise to hire an ambitious, creative person to fill what you know to be a dead-end, repetitive position.
Stress reduction is vital if the manager is going to achieve the high, long-term productivity needed to excel. There is no one perfect way to reduce stress. However, try a few of the following ideas:
- Go to the gym, play sports, or take up yoga
- Develop a sense of humor about yourself and your work
- Avoid negative people
- Take up a hobby
- Spend more time with family and friends
- Develop a positive support group to help solve problems
- Consider meditation, self-hypnosis, or psychotherapy to help you cope
- Give yourself credit for a good job even if no one else does
- Do not rely on alcohol or drugs to relieve stress