Manage People, Not Robots

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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As a school administrator, I am responsible for thirty teachers of English. A few come to work late or turn their paperwork in late. Sometimes they seem genuinely disconnected from their work.

When I was a young manager, I thought the best way to go was to follow the negotiated contracts and school handbooks and reprimand my teachers, write formal letters of rebuke and hope that having a heavy hand would make people comply with the rules. They did, for a day or so, and then snapped back to their old habits.

At some point, I decided to help the weaker employees. I got to know their husbands and wives, made sure that they had the needed materials for their classes, sent out extra reminders to them about work that was due. Sometimes I’d just say how much I love who they are, and how frustrated I get with their lapses in responsibilities. "I need your help," I’d say. Their help lasted for a day or so, until they bounced back to their old habits. Same results as before, but my new approach left a smile on their face.

One of my sloppy teachers is one of my best teachers. She makes the students laugh. They read many novels and plays and write wonderful essays about themselves. Whenever I see this teacher, I think of a disorganized Mary Poppins: disheveled, loaded down with bags and books, and yet also filled with a joy about who she is and about the goodness and potential of her students.

Blessed are the pure of heart. We can easily be blinded by unimportant things in our daily work and miss seeing the true labor. Life is sloppy. If we force all those who work for us into the same cubbyhole with the same rules and regulations, we may create a work environment that values rules and symmetry and frustrates innovation and charm.

We are called, each day, to tend to the lilies of the field. If we work with our God-given talents, our human failings will be minor footnotes to the great history of our lives. I would rather have a happy teacher reading Robert Frost aloud to her students than an unhappy teacher maintaining a neat room and filling out forms on time.

One of the many things that I learned in my graduate studies in administration at Columbia University was hiring criteria. The best workers are those who know their subject matter, deeply care about the people they serve, and have a unique, open personality.

Would I like all the people who work for me to come in on time? Yes. Would I like reports created in a timely manner? Of course. But I am a manager who learned long ago that I manage people, not robots. And if I manage people, I make sure that I treat them as my brothers and sisters, as my neighbors, as my friends. I share my vision for them and for their students and celebrate who they are. And at the end of the year, if the children became better readers, writers, and people, I don’t care how many missing district reports there are.

Rejoice in the high calling of our vocations, for it is in the joy where we find the sort of organization that truly matters.