Master and manager

What does it mean to line manage someone? Is it to control and manipulate or develop and enable people you oversee? We seem to talk a lot about the latter, but often practice the former. We assume people need to be actively managed and we developed a lot of linear and simplistic advise on how to line manage. The current paradigm of line management seems to be built on the notion that as a line manager I can control what my reports do. In practice this often means I can treat a person the way I want (hence people often leave their line managers not organisations) or I can set my expectations on them, if even unreasonable. We assume that people need to be managed rather than enable them to manage.

In Eastern martial arts the key relationship is between the master/teacher and the student. Unlike in the office environment which often lacks grace and trust, this relationship is underpinned by the vision that the master helps the student become a master. The master does not have to manage the student and he does not demean the student because of his lower rank. The student manages himself but the master creates environment to enable the student become better at what he does and regularly invests in him. Fundamentally, it is about development.

There is something healthy about the idea of how the master-student relationship works. It is not about sucking the energy out of others but helping them release their energy productively. What if more managers learned to act as martial art masters? Creating environment and using their energy such that it builds those who report to them.

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