More in opinion


Friday, 12 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Be an effective manager by doing less

WHEN I was studying production management in my engineering course in the 1960s, I learnt that the basic functions of management were planning, organising, directing and controlling.

I was also introduced to the scientific management of Taylor, which focused more on work rather than people. Years later, I learnt that management was getting things done through others.

As I progressed in my career, I realised I was doing less of my work by myself and depending more on others to get it done.

I was also using less of my technical skills but more human skills in communicating, coordinating, motivating and building relationships with others.

In the 1980s, the focus shifted from management to leadership. I was told that “a manager does the things right but a leader does the right things”. However I realised that the dichotomy between management and leadership was actually not distinct. You had to be both a good organiser and motivator to bring your team and organisation forward.

I worked in government service where I didn’t have the power to hire and fire even as the CEO of the organisation. I could only make the best out of the human, physical and financial resources given to me.

But I told myself not to worry too much about things that I could not do, as there were still many things I could do to keep me busy!

I found the Contingency Leadership Theory most suited for my organisation, which consisted of staff with wide-ranging competency and motivation levels. My leadership style had to be contingent on the situation and the types of staff I had. I agree with Thomas Jefferson that “there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.”

I also realised that sometimes you could produce more in a bureaucratic organisation by doing less by just cutting down the unproductive activities.

A smart leader may know the rules, but a wise leader knows the exceptions.

Knowing what not to do is sometimes more important than knowing what to do!

In an interview by our in-house magazine before my retirement, I was asked whether my job in managing the organisation with so many staff was difficult. I answered: “How could my job be difficult when I had so many assistants to help me?” I believed in being consistent, predictable and transparent in my behaviour and action so that it would be easier for others to understand me and support my work.

I no longer have the power of a formal leader now but I can still lead by example, especially for my family members, by being always grateful, compassionate and forgiving. I still think strategically in whatever I do. By knowing where I am, where I am going and how to get there, I will reach my goal and destination.