Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trash Your Management Style

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I do a lot of Interim Executive Director jobs. Basically, an organization that is in a transition period between chief executives brings a consultant, such as myself, in as a temporary leader to help them through tough period, be it a merger, or a financial crisis, or just a pause to strategize between EDs.

Recently I was having a meeting with the board leadership of an organization that is considering hiring an Interim ED, and one of the questions they asked me was, "What is your management style?"

That's a typical and harmless enough interview question, but I always wonder how other people answer it. Do the micro-managers actually admit to enjoying looking over the shoulders of their staff as they work? Do the hands-off people really sit there and say, "I just trust that staff is performing"? I've seen many "experts" give the advice that you should answer this question to match the company's style (if they're command and control, you be too).

But my answer is usually more zen-like: my style is to have no style. Or, rather, the manner in which I prefer to manage is a far distant runner-up to the manner in which the employee needs to be managed.

For an example, let's take two of the senior managers who reported to me in my last interim assignment. Both highly intelligent and extremely capable, creative, and motivated. But very different people with very different needs.

One was new to her position and was still very fresh out of college. While she was full of great ideas and eager to implement them, she was also uncertain in some situations and in need of a mentor. She felt best knowing that we had a set weekly meeting where she could go over her plan for the week and get any input she needed. Of course, if she had questions in between, she'd also be welcome to pop into my office and go over any pending issues, and I'd also casually check in with her as we went about our week.

On the other end of the spectrum was the manager who'd been in her job for about a decade. Still loving her job and always excited about new ways to improve services, but very comfortable in how to go about it. For her, having a regular meeting scheduled (yet another meeting!) with no set agenda other than "what are you up to this week?" would be an unpleasant distraction. As long as she know she could come to me with questions or issues as they came up, that was enough.

Of course, some people prefer to be left alone, but really need supervision... but I'll save those stories for another posting. The idea is that the best "management style" is to be able to put your own preferences aside and find the best approach for any individual employee and situation.

At least, that's been my experience. How about you?

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