Don't Boss Me Around | BTalk Australia

Last Updated Jan 20, 2009 7:14 PM EST


The role of the manager is changing. According to research from Monash University, managers are becoming more consultative in their approach. In today's podcast Professor James Sarros tells Phil Dobbie that this approach is essential if you want to attract talent because this is how the new generation of workers expect to be managed.

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  • Today's Transcript
Dobbie: Management styles are being forced to change. You might be in charge, but you also have to be one of the team. And Professor James Sarros from Monash University has surveyed Australia's business leaders. James, those days of "I'm in charge and you do what I say," they've gone by the wayside, have they?
Sarros: We'd like to believe they have, Phil, and the results of our study show that when managers report on their own leadership behaviours, they see themselves as being very caring, providing role models, appropriate behaviour and concerns for their employees.

Dobbie: Right.
Sarros: And building fairly supportive sustainable work culture. That's what they tell us. At times, the reality is a little bit different to that.

Dobbie: Well, I was going to say, I would have thought that ego drives a lot of these top positions. So, I would have thought that precisely that ego which is perhaps stopping some of those behaviours, wouldn't it be?
Sarros: Certainly, we didn't survey the top CEOs, but ego is fairly healthy among all levels of management, not just the top levels. And you've got to have a certain sense of ego in order to be successful at those levels. But what we're finding is we've got basically two camps of managers and unfortunately, it hasn't much changed over the years. We still have the command-and-control type who basically say "perform or go elsewhere", you know, "you don't fit with the business". On the other hand, we've got the consultative and supportive who are building a culture of teamwork and collaboration where people are important. We think there is a movement toward the latter. Our results are certainly indicating that, but we're not really sure the strength of that or the speed of that.

Dobbie: Right. And again, this is based on what the managers are saying about themselves, so they could be wrong, of course.
Sarros: They could be wrong. They could be embellishing the perceptions. And so in order to test for that we are now conducting more rigorous research where we've got the control and experimental groups and we must be looking at managers, as well as their subordinates. We're going to be doing a longitudinal study for a number of years in a number of sectors to test the veracity of those findings. But my feeling is that we will find that there are very healthy levels of good leadership among managers, but there will always be areas where they can improve, obviously.

Dobbie: Now this move towards a more consultative approach, I mean, most people would say that that's obviously a positive thing. Were there any worrying trends, anything emerging in the survey over recent years that concern you?
Sarros: Well, I think the uptake on innovation is still too slow.

Dobbie: Hmm.
Sarros: In Australian corporations --- where we tend to talk about it. It's important to become innovative, but we're still fairly hierarchical. There are still many bureaucratic structures in place that prevent innovative practices coming online quickly, you know. We lag behind other countries in that respect.

Dobbie: Why do you think that's happening here particularly?
Sarros: Well, we're not putting enough resources into it, for a start. I don't we're serious enough about innovation and we create too many interferences, interventions, you know at the organisational level, as well as at the government level. If we could delete at least half of the processes that organisations have to go through both internally and externally here meeting government regulations, you'd create a far more innovative workforce.

Dobbie: Now, is that true across all sizes of organisations or are we finding that with the smaller organisations the management style would be more innovative.
Sarros: You know, it wasn't that different in not-for-profit or private sector corporations, but it was the size that mattered, rather than the sector. We're finding the smaller organisations are probably faster to adapt in streamlining the process. The larger organisations of course, because of a complexity, tend to take longer. But then again, it depends on the nature of the organisations to an extent --- if you've got the consulting firms, the multinational corporations that have subsidiaries all over the place. They can move fairly quickly if required.

Dobbie: Now do you see what about our next generation of managers? Do you see that we're going to see an even stronger shift towards that more consultative, and hopefully a more adaptive and more innovative approach to management?
Sarros: You know, that's a good question and definitely I think we will. For the generation X and Ys, their expectations of the world are fundamentally different to the baby boomers who are still in management positions today but gradually retiring, well, fairly quickly retiring now.

Dobbie: Yeah.
Sarros: The new generations --- they expect much more involvement and engagement in the workplace than the baby boomers ever did. The baby boomers could get a job basically anywhere, anytime. They had the luxury of choice. It's more competitive these days, so the new generations have to really sell themselves much more, but then they expect much more in return from organisations. So, they want more involvement and more engagement. Accordingly, organisations have to compete for talent much more vigorously and enthusiastically and they again have to sell themselves better than they do. So, given these conflicting demands and impressions, leadership approaches again do have to be different. You can no longer now command and control. As I mentioned earlier, it's got the more consultative, more engaging and probably more focused on developing new ideas and means for making organisations competitive.

Dobbie: If people wanna read of more about this, how can they find out more about the shifting attitudes of Australian managers?
Sarros: A number of the sources are available, Phil. We published a book called The Character of Leadership in 2006. That's available, a number of articles. It can be sourced general business and psychology and elsewhere and also the Australian Institute of Management has a report of our study published in the journal Management Today.