Good enough? Is that the best you can do? In our culture, with its focus on excellence and perfection, good enough is usually considered not enough. While that may be the conventional wisdom, good enough is sometimes exactly what you need.
Take our earliest interpersonal relationships, for example. In psychological theory, the "good enough mother" (or parent) creates a "facilitating" environment for her child, meeting all of the child's needs in the beginning and then gradually allowing greater autonomy, still within secure boundaries. Similarly, a Good Enough Manager (GEM) adapts his behavior to facilitate employee autonomy, all while providing well-structured parameters.
We can contrast the GEM with the "not good enough" manager who lacks presence and engagement. On the other hand, we have the über manager — the perfectionist who creates an atmosphere where compliant employees are pressured to meet established goals, but keep their heads down and offer few new ideas.The GEM is the manager who can find the balance between being hands-off and handling everything themselves.
In order to see how these ideas are realized in practice, I reached out to a large sample of business school alumni and asked them to anonymously describe and provide stories about their best and worst managers. Based on an analysis of the responses from more than 1,000 business professionals, I concluded that the best managers shared many "good enough" qualities. They were seen as mentors and teachers, relationship builders, and models of integrity for their employees and co-workers, while the worst managers were overwhelmingly described as micromanagers who stifled creativity.
The GEMs were characterized as empathetic and attuned to their employees' emotions, while at the same time reassuring, stable figures who remained confident in uncertainty. The GEMs turned employee shortcomings into learning experiences and inspiration for creative thought. Many of the employees remarked that their best managers oftentimes remained a touchstone for them long after the end of the formal reporting relationship.
A GEM's special effectiveness comes from a combination of attitude and skill, much of which can be learned and practiced. Illustrated by the real-life experiences of employees, the guidelines below provide the dos and don'ts for becoming a Good Enough Manager.
Embrace the role of teacher and mentor: "She allowed me to ask questions of her in a manner where I did not feel I was being judged, every question was treated as important, and she always made sure to walk me through how she reasoned out the conclusion."
Get to know your employees as individuals: "He had a dozen managers, each with a dozen staff members, and he took the time to meet first with all of the managers and then with every member of every manager's team...The result was a very effective organization because the manager had become familiar with each of the players and them with him."
Help employees find strengths they may not immediately see: "This very good manager would review my performance and point out where things may have gone wrong — but he went further. He provided a broader view and pointed out positive results that I wasn't aware of."
Allow the freedom to fail and learn from mistakes: "The best manager I have ever had provided me with the ability and flexibility to take risks in a 'safe' environment. This allowed for great learning experiences, and as a result I'm now able to ascertain when a risk is calculated and what the repercussions will be."
Interfere with employee autonomy: "My worst manager was someone who could not let projects go. I would be 'in charge' of a project, but she would micromanage the entire thing. Sometimes I would start working on something that was due in a week, and she would already have started working on it without telling me. So we would do double the work. She was not comfortable trusting people to do their jobs."
Put employees down to portray yourself in a positive light: "She was always in it only for herself. She would blame her shortcomings and mistakes on her staff members and take credit for their successful ideas and accomplishments behind their backs. She was masterful in these tactics, but not masterful at her profession."
Partake in destructive office gossip or politics: "He has an aversion to confrontation, and therefore, he is unable to offer direct feedback (constructive or otherwise) and instead talks behind people's backs. The result is that employees seldom know where they truly stand with him...Most of his projects fall behind schedule and result in the messy politics of finger-pointing."
Forget that your employees are people with their own lives and agendas: "He had no boundaries. He would call my cell at 11:00 pm. He would not listen and always focused on his own agenda. He oftentimes got caught up in details that were irrelevant and unimportant to the final task. I would be exhausted after just talking to him because I had to work so hard to try to make him understand what I needed to be successful."
GEM's adapt in turbulent business environments, release creative thinking, and inspire great performance. They accomplish this by facilitating rather than commanding and controlling, and by negotiating the precarious balance between holding the reins and letting go.
Do you have what it takes to be good enough?