I've had reasons this week beyond bosses' day to reflect on the kind of manager that I am. I am thinking of the book Soar with Your Strengths. It was revolutionary to me at the time. Its premise: we spend too much time working on fixing ourselves and working on our weak points. We should focus on our strengths, which will get stronger as we do the work towards which our strengths point us.
That approach also tends to be a management strategy of mine: focus on what people do well and encourage them to do more of that. That works to a point—but there are problems that won’t be solved or go away just by focusing on the tasks that people are good at or the ones that are enjoyable.
This management strategy also presupposes that people are doing what they need to do and that they're interested in doing a good job--it's not a management strategy that's useful when people just stop doing their jobs.
By the end of the week, I was dealing with a personnel situation that I've never really had: a worker who just stopped coming to work with no communication. I don't feel comfortable saying too much about this situation, but I'm stating here what anyone on our campus could have observed.
I spent part of the week thinking about the ways we part company with the organizations that employ us. As a manager, I've never really experienced outright job abandonment. I've had faculty members who moved away, but usually with notice, and faculty members who were RIFed. I had one faculty member call me from jail, where he'd been taken as part of a custody battle. And sadly, this week marks the one year anniversary of a faculty member who died as the term began.
I've pondered whether the difference comes from age or job duties. The team member who stopped coming to work this week with no communication was not a faculty member. I have noticed that most faculty members with whom I've worked have had a much larger sense of duty and obligation than the larger population.
I also realize that I'm working with populations that are much too small to make these sweeping generalizations.
In a way, this personnel situation is the easiest to deal with. Clearly, when an employee stops coming to work and stops communicating, that worker doesn't want to keep the job. The way forward is clear--unlike many other negative situations that an administrator might experience.
Still, I've spent a lot of time this week in reflection. What happened? Could I have somehow prevented this ending? Should I have seen something earlier? Does this trajectory say something about the flaws of my management style?
What can I learn for next time, while at the same time not burdening the bulk of workers who are doing a job that is just fine?