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How men can lean in, too

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Don Peppers here 

Several years ago the nature of management’s future was driven home to me in a flash, as I shared the stage with my co-author and business partner Dr. Martha Rogers. It was the heyday of the dot-com boom, and we had just done an hour-long joint presentation for an audience of thousands, arguing that online technology now demanded that companies maintain relationships with their customers, individually. CRM (“Customer Relationship Management”) was being birthed during this period, and Martha and I felt like midwives in the process.

Q&A time came, and a man took the microphone to say that while this all sounded fine and good, “Isn’t there a quicker way to build a relationship?”

Martha and I looked briefly at each other, and then without missing a beat she responded, “Well, isn’t that just like a man?”

Martha’s rejoinder brought the house down of course. However, the fact that everyone in the audience clearly recognized the ultimate truth in her answer is also highly revealing. Relationship management is a human skill that women, as a general rule, are more likely than men to develop and have in abundance. Much more likely. This is not sexism, but a biological and statistical fact you can confirm for yourself with no more than fifteen minutes of online research and an open mind.

But you already know this statement to be true, don’t you? That’s why you, too, got a chuckle from Martha’s reply.

Because new technologies connect the human race more tightly than ever before, relationships are more important than ever, also – not just relationships between a business and its customers, but relationships among the people working at a business, among the contributors to solving a problem, among the connections in a social network, or among the members of our society at large. This is the primary reason Martha and I have written nine books over the last 20 years preaching the business virtues of relationship management. (And yes, in case you were wondering, we are in fact married; but not to each other!)

So while Sheryl Sandberg says a female executive must Lean In to be able to participate on a more equal footing with her male counterparts, it’s also important for all managers – male and female alike – to “lean back” a little, in order to appreciate the virtues of non-macho, relationship-based management.

Six post-macho principles for the successful manager in the hyper-interactive future:

  1. Relationships require listening. Relationships — with customers, employees, or lovers — involve a give-and-take. Each party has to listen to the other, which is something women seem to be much better at than men (in my own experience, just sayin’). So instead of crafting algorithms and spreadsheets to plot which of your customers are the most and least valuable to you (a macho management preoccupation), design some “Golden Questions” for your customers, so you can listen better to what they say they really need!
  2. Think long-term. Short-term thinking is macho-management at its best and probably the single most threatening affliction for business executives (and politicians) today. But relationships aren’t built quickly, and they grow stronger with time. For a business, customers are the mechanism that links short-term actions and long-term value, because customers have memories, and how you treat them today will affect how much value they create for you tomorrow.
  3. Hierarchies are out. Collaboration is in. For the last two hundred years or so, corporate organizations were strictly hierarchical, with authority flowing down from the top, while information flowed up from the bottom. No longer. Today, the lowliest employee can jump the hierarchy with a tap to her smartphone. Top-down organization, as a form of command-and-control macho management, is fading fast.
  4. Rules and structure don’t matter. Culture and informal customs make the difference now. Automation is a macho mechanism for streamlining predictable processes and accomplishing tasks. But in a more rapidly changing world, with ever more unpredictable innovations and disruptions, dealing with unanticipated situations will be more important. Culture – the unwritten rules that govern how an organization’s members behave – will be the single most important factor in determining how your organization weathers the next unexpected social media conflagration or disruptive innovation.
  5. Empathy is king. Macho management principles allow a business to pad its current-period bottom line by exploiting a customer’s mistakes, oversights, or lack of knowledge. But relationships succeed based on mutual empathy, which for a business means seeing things from the customer’s perspective, treating different customers differently, and demonstrating genuinely good intentions toward them. Proactively protecting the customer’s interest is the new standard.
  6. Share and be shared with. In the e-social era, with technology-facilitated relationships blossoming all around us, remember that people have an urge to share, so macho-inspired monetary incentives and purely economic inducements are not always useful. In the social domain, in fact, they can be counter-productive. Share your ideas, your technology, and your data, in order to inspire more sharing and faster innovation. And begin figuring out what it means to trust others the way you want them to trust you.

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