Yin or Yang

There are many examples and definitions of an effective manager. This overview is mine; it doesn’t mean that others are wrong, but some are. I’ll share a quick look into the Yin and the Yang of the role of manager. My paradigm will likely conflict with some manager’s vision of their position. I see this as a good thing. Once we stop looking at alternative ways of managing ourselves and our businesses, we become complacent and dull. No one wants to be around complacent and dull, especially drivers.

First, it is pertinent to overlay the company’s goals. Is this a company whose strategic plan is to grow exponentially or one that is planning moderate gains in size but is looking to maximize shareholder value? The reason to identify this strategy is that these are likely being led by two different personality types: one possibly being more aggressive than the other. The individual must fit the company strategy.

Here we go. The Yin. This manager feels the need to touch every nuance of their department’s activity. They will need to be cc’d or worse, bcc’d on every email, everything even remotely related to their area of responsibility and will become uncomfortable if they are not. This manager has a tight hold on every aspect of their department and trusts no one below them on the organizational chart to make an independent decision without it being approved beforehand. This manager is always busy putting out fires or producing endless streams of spreadsheets. Their personality motivates them to control everything around them that they possibly can. It is in their DNA: control and dictate.

They will be very directive; they see themselves as the ultimate problem solver; this is how they derive their self-worth. They spend much of their time finding culprits when things get off track. They do not effectively coach those directly reporting to them and they ask for zero feedback on their performance. They chastise in public and seldom offer praise except to those who have figured out their style and yield to it. Let’s call those people suck-ups, or to be kinder, they are survivors. They may share a role description with a direct report, but it is usually very vague. It is not usually talked about again to any degree after the hiring process. Information is held close by this manager; they and they alone are the keeper of the bigger picture.

The Yang. This person manages by committee, wants a cross-section of opinions before they pull the trigger on a new policy or procedure; they want their people’s input. They know that asking another person’s opinion empowers that individual; they feel part of the process. This manager delegates responsibility to their staff and thinks that their people should enjoy autonomy in their roles. They see their role as a coach, always looking for ways to assist their direct reports more efficiently and successfully. They exercise daily walkabout coaching trips; they encourage better performance through collaborative conversation, always talking to everyone respectfully.

This manager would never chastise an individual in public and would rarely do it at any time. They practice praise in public and coach in private. When this manager sees a reoccurring issue, they rally the troops and limit any additional distractions. That might include a collaborative SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) or some other action designed by the department and owned by everyone involved in the process. This person knows they do not need to be involved in every decision or cc’d on every piece of correspondence related to their departments. This manager knows that sharing the big picture at any given time is essential to the individual and impacts the quality of their decision-making. Yang encourages the individual’s decision-making. They hire to a solid role description and coach their direct reports to review the document periodically. They also use it during quarterly performance reviews; the role description lives, and performance is measured to it.

I understand these two paradigms of a manager because I have been both at one time in my past. I was Ying; feeling my self-worth as a businessperson was based on the strength of my control of everything around me. On a typical Friday late afternoon, which as many in the industry know is the witching hour (if something is going to go wrong, chances are this is when it will happen) I revelled in being the go-to guy for everyone. My employees would line up at my door and I would meter out direction like a traffic cop at a busted intersection. It was exhilarating and exhausting, and it was wrong.

I learned from a couple of competent business coaches the error of my ways. It would have been impossible even to write that last sentence in my past. Consultants were people to look down upon by me. How dare you suggest to me how to run my business? No way. The shift in thinking came from my need to read business books, case studies and business psychology. What could I learn from others who had been successful? My reading enabled my dealing with consultants, which gave me an expanded paradigm on their value.

Coincidentally, these revelations that I accepted matched simultaneously with our company’s drastic reduction in our turnover – which was a two-year journey. Putting a driver turnover plan together with my people and asking them to fill in the blanks was instrumental to our success. It was exhilarating to watch while the team came together and reduced turnover from 120% to 20% in just two years—what a ride. We also more than doubled our operating ratio and won TCA’s national fleet safety award three times.

Engaged employees are more productive. They feel empowered because they are. They have a level of autonomy to do their jobs. There is no doubt about it in my mind. Which company would you like to drive for?

Safe trucking,

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.