The borderline between management and command : aspects that allow us to optimise managerial performance.
Olivier Lajous is a consultant and speaker who served in the Navy for 38 years. On the strength of his career, in which commitment, trust, courage and humility all contribute to success, he supports companies and tells teams about the keys to high-performing individuals and organisations. We interviewed him and Henri Vidalinc, Chairman of Grant Alexander, and discussed what makes good managers.
What led each of you, in your own way, to take an interest in managerial performance?
I started off as a simple sailor and ended up as an admiral and naval officer and during my career I was able to observe different ways of giving orders in environments that were sometimes hostile and conditions in which discipline was very important. All the most notable leaders had something inspiring about them – just the right presence, just the right tone and natural authority. I became convinced that success can only be achieved by working as a team and through managerial performance.
Before becoming involved in HR consultancy, I worked for various companies and encountered many managers and often asked myself what gives them their legitimacy in this role. Good managers make teams want to follow them. The presence of a good manager transcends codes. It is like an aura that is emanated and projected regardless of the physical dimension. Differences need to be cultivated. The question is can these characteristics be developed.
To what extent is this innate or acquired do you think?
All individuals have to co-exist with other people. Obviously, the notion of the innate counts – people’s natures are the result of genetic and environmental factors. But the fact we can acquire characteristics means we have many opportunities to surpass ourselves. Others drive change and encourage progress. The more we are confronted with Others and otherness, the more we enter a process of construction and achievement, becoming able to accommodate differences, change our habits, live in a community, practice high-performance sports, deal with extreme environments (seas, mountains, tropical rainforests) etc. Self-confidence is developed through experiences and challenges, not only through commands.
We have to show a certain humility if we want to learn. Opening up to the experience of others allows us to develop better self-awareness. As we become familiar with our strengths and weaknesses, we learn how to make progress. It is important that we feel we can master our own destiny. When we are aware of our weaknesses, we can seek the skills and resources we need. A good manager should also be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.
Are there similarities between commanding and managing?
Managing and commanding are in fact two facets of the same activity – the art of managing – and are implemented according to time-frames. When there are no operational urgencies, we manage. And we can command naturally after we have managed. The legitimacy of commanding in the heat of the action (saying which direction to take) is the natural result of good management when we take the time to discuss matters (approaching others). In all cases, this depends on natural authority, i.e. a subtle blend of soft skills, know-how, the ability to get things done and to convey messages in order to share experience and inspire people.
The notion of preparation is fundamental. Natural authority must be accompanied by skills-based authority that establishes credibility. The good news is that both can be developed. A good manager must have both charisma and substance to be able to endure over time. There are people with knowledge: diplomas, apprenticeships, experience, understanding of jobs and codes, and people who show us what to do and explain why we do it. At Grant Alexander, we believe that over and above professional skills and personality, we can measure and develop mental abilities that are conducive to success (self-confidence, self-awareness, team-awareness, capacity for concentration, control of our emotions, our environment, determination, etc.). This is our Athlete Thinking philosophy.
How is natural authority asserted in managerial positions?
In my opinion, natural authority is best embodied in the legitimacy of decision-making. Good managers must be able make fast decisions. To do this, they have to be prepared to take a decision at any time, whatever the situation. Therefore, they must remain concentrated. This is similar to the way athletes behave. They can go into action when necessary with all their capacities mobilised.
A team can only succeed if it has a leader who makes decisions. To prepare for decision-making, we have to practice making decisions and avoid restrictive and prohibitive rules. We should never consider that there is only one way of dealing with a situation. The right answer comes from experience; it is never predetermined. We have to test scenarios. This means we have to develop the ability to seek out rules that allow us to respond appropriately at the right time. There are elements of risk in all choices, so it is essential we train ourselves to be courageous. And to control our mind and emotions.
Is it possible to train ourselves to control our mind and emotions in order to improve performance?
We cannot ignore emotions and affect on the pretext that we are in a professional environment. Managers must show humanity and be able to display their feelings. Experience should allow them to channel their emotions better. Good managers who have gained their teams’ trust must accept that team members may challenge them.
Contrary to beliefs, the army is not an environment devoid of feelings. In fact it is very conducive to emotions. When you find yourself in extreme situations, you have to be able to combat panic, fear and anger. This is why you shouldn’t be afraid of your emotions. You have to understand and control them and know how to put them to good use. If you try to ignore them, they may overwhelm you and then you may end up making mistakes. This brings us back to the fact that we need to manage and optimise mental characteristics in order to achieve efficient management. We all have innate characteristics but are also capable of developing new ones and this shouldn’t be underestimated.
– October 2017 –
Henri Vidalinc is Chairman of Grant Alexander.
Olivier Lajous is a consultant and speaker.
He served as a seaman in the navy for 38 years, starting out as a sailor and ending up as an admiral. He navigated for 16 years, commanded three ships and helped resolve many armed conflicts from 1980 to 2003 (Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq, the Lebanon, Libya-Chad, Yemen-Eritrea). He was a director of communications, director of a centre for higher education and then director of human resources for the national navy. He has also served in a government ministry for the Minister of Overseas Territories. Elected HR Manager of the Year in 2012, he is the author of “L’Art de diriger” (The art of managing) published by L’Harmattan.