What Managers Can Learn from my 6-year old!

“You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.” ~ Philosophy of children everywhere

My 6-year-old is into crafts these days. Most of the day you’d find him bent down frowning over some craft material with scissors or a tube of glue in his hand. Lately, however, he has become quite experimentative. He has graduated beyond the run-of-the-mill craft stuff that I get for him and moved on to try out different fabrics/ papers etc which he can lay his hands on. He tries things on anything that is accessible (bear in mind that he is never reckless – he’s never laid his hands on expensive curtain fabrics or beads from the puja room!)– not always asking for permission, knowing very well that he is risking my displeasure. But he also knows well that if he does end up creating something nice, he will earn a lot of praise and my displeasure will dissolve immediately.

You know the expression, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” Well, it’s true. And watching my son, I have learnt an important managerial lesson. Good managers don’t wait for official blessing to try things out. They’re prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: if you ask enough people for permission, you’ll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say “no.” So the moral is, don’t ask. Less effective middle managers endorsed the sentiment, “If I haven’t explicitly been told ‘yes,’ I can’t do it,” whereas the good ones believed, “If I haven’t explicitly been told ‘no,’ I can.” There’s a world of difference between these two points of view.

Smart managers are risk taking but also politically savvy (just like smart kids!). They know how much they can stretch the organization’s resources to try something that holds the promise of being worthwhile. They are ‘organizationally aware’ – they know which power centers to turn to for additional resources if needed and which power centers to ‘keep in the loop’. This is an important skill that is definitely not taught in B-School but maybe an important success factor.