First-line managers must use wisdom to make effective decisions. They must reconcile the differences between people and processes. When we think of wisdom, we often think of King Solomon. We remember the decision he made about a baby. Two women claimed the same baby. He was going to divide the baby between them. Most think that the King knew this would expel the mother, and it did. I think he just wanted to see which woman loved the baby the most. What does this have to do with being a front line manager? Sometimes we have to decide how to divide the baby between processes and people.
Most first-line managers get promoted because they are great workers in a department. They know the work processes. To be effective managers, they must learn to manage people. How you separate yourself from your coworkers is a big problem. Some cannot make this transition. It’s not easy going from being one of the guys to being a coach. We saw this several times in our company. We say that they cannot renounce their union card. It is difficult for them to represent the company’s side in any issue. Successful managers finally learn how to save the baby.
My job as a front-line manager was different. I didn’t know the process; or, the people side of the business. He had one advantage, the restaurant was working in good order. The employees were trustworthy and dedicated. He just needed to listen and give in to his experience.
I graduated from the University of Alabama, two weeks later, I was a restaurant manager. I was arrogant, I could do anything. I knew a manager made decisions, I must figure out how to make good decisions. The employees were my guilds. When I look back on this experience, I was smart enough to seek help from both people and the process of running a restaurant.
I remember my first people problem. The cook for the night, Isaac threw a drunk, and he didn’t show up. I have trouble boiling water so this was a challenge for me. The waitresses said they would help me until the chef from our downtown restaurant arrived. There I was an instant cook. I remember one particular order, chicken livers. I told the waitress that if she showed me what they looked like, I would cook them. I floured the livers, put them on the grill and cut onions on top, just like I saw my mother do with the veal liver. We serve you. I saw the waitress come back with an empty plate. I asked if the customer liked the books. She said that he liked them, although she had never cooked them that way.
I told the General Manager that I was going to fire Isaac. She said, “No, I’ll talk to him.” The next day I sent Isaac to see Mrs. E. When he returned to the restaurant, I asked him if he understood that the next time he didn’t come to work he would fire him. He said that he understood. This is a difficult stance for me to take. I knew enough to realize that I must require employees to report to work. I still remember the look in Isaac’s bloodshot eyes, when I told him this. I knew he meant what I said.
What does this have to do with wisdom? This was my first challenge. I responded to the challenge effectively. It just seemed like common sense, managers must have dependent employees. I came to expect an employee to challenge me every time he took over a department, which he usually did. You must have courage not to accept these actions. Additionally, Ms. E. taught me to give employees the opportunity to correct their actions. Recognizing and handling people problems like this requires experience and common sense. We can call this acquiring wisdom.
Process that can be learned, people management is more difficult. People management is not a matter of knowledge, like learning a process. It requires feeling and emotional maturity. Wisdom consists in making effective decisions about people.