Lyme - Glenn Bassett, former dean of the University of Bridgeport's School of Business who has written a new ebook titled "The Manager's Craft," says most management tomes these days ignore the issue of authority.
Instead, they spread a message that good managers can make anything happen and tell riveting stories about industry geniuses who seem to motivate workers through some inexpressable aura.
"It just doesn't happen that way," Bassett said in an interview from his cozy home overlooking Rogers Lake.
The proper use of authority is key to business success, said Bassett, whose resume includes a doctorate in management from Yale University and management roles at General Electric.
"Authority is the fundamental lever of control in the pursuit of business goals and objectives," Bassett said in his book, available on Amazon.com. "It gets the job done."
Bassett, who bases much of his book on scientific findings, pointed out that a boss's right to hire, fire and discipline stands behind every decision made, instruction given or rule enforced.
"More careers are stalled, more anger and confusion is generated, more time is wasted through the inept use of authority than from any other source," he writes. "A personal need to possess and exercise authority distracts and confuses the manager who fears appearing weak or lacking resolve in its use."
Bassett said the key for a manager is maintaining balance. Knowing when to exercise authority and when to let something go is largely feel, he said, but failing to act when someone needs to be reined in can lead to a crisis that cuts into authority, hurts productivity and reduces commitment to a business culture.
Still, he writes, it is "often better to overlook an occasional inadvertent bending of the standards than to discipline harshly and hastily on limited evidence."
Young people, especially, are averse to micromanagement, he said, and deserve to be left alone to the extent that they have the skills to do the job with little supervision.
Part of the manager's craft, he added, is knowing what motivates the people with whom you work.
"Go after a style that is either very harsh or very gentle," he advised.
Bassett said a workplace requires all sorts of different people - from the anxious and loose to the cooperative and uncooperative - so good managers don't try to tell people how to behave.
"Anything fits in in its time and place as far as personality is concerned," he said.
The same thing could be said for managers themselves. Uptight bosses might be perfect in a very competitive field where people need to be on their toes at all times, he said, but there are also niches in which a less stressful management style is more appropriate.
"Change occurs around you all the time, and you have to adapt to it," Bassett said. "A good manager is a realist."
And management styles might not translate from industry to industry, he noted. What worked for Jack Welch at GE, he said, might not work in the pharmaceutical industry, as employees of Pfizer Inc. who faced firings based on Welch's principle of cutting the bottom 10 percent of performers based on annual reviews can attest.
Similarly, the proper payment for managers can be a balancing act. Top corporate managers with stressful jobs might tend to be overcompensated largely because they are required to take big risks and therefore are more likely to make mistakes and potentially lose their jobs, he said, whereas others might be underpaid as a way to encourage more productivity.
Furloughs and layoffs, he added, might have the consequence of getting more work out of employees. But these kinds of incentives, he said, are similar to performing surgery with a machete. "Your best workers will bail out," he said.
Much of what passes for management wisdom today has become dogma based on a misinterpretation of early data on industrial psychology, Bassett maintains.
For instance, the famous Chicago experiment at Western Electric's Hawthorne plant in the 1920s during which scientists got more productivity out of workers no matter how harsh the factory lighting has been interpreted as a call to managers to pay more attention to their employees' satisfaction levels to foster productivity. But Bassett calls this a misinterpretation of the data.
Looking more closely at the experiment, Bassett noted in his book that managers at Hawthorne invoked discipline at first to prod more productivity and even removed workers unwilling to commit to workplace efficiencies.
"Management and supervision were fully in charge, demanding commitment to goals, offering piecework pay, rest periods, lunches and shorter work days as incentive," Bassett writes. "High output was expected, control was tightened, committed workers were found to lead the way."
While the "happy worker is a productive worker" ideology has prevailed based on false interpretation of the Hawthorne experiment, Bassett said, the truth is that some edginess in a workplace is probably a good thing.
"Ideology is dangerous," Bassett said. "We found that out with Soviet Russia."
L.HOWARD@THEDAY.COMJUST THE FACTS
WHAT: "The Manager's Craft: Exercising Control/Building Commitment/Sustaining Productivity
AUTHOR: Glenn Bassett