First line managers must use wisdom to make effective decisions. They must reconciled differences between people and processes. When we think of wisdom we usually think of King Solomon. We remember the decision he made about a baby. Two women claimed to be the mother of the same baby. He was going to split the baby between them. Most think the King knew this would flush out the mother, which it did. I think he just wanted to see which woman loved the baby the most. What does this have to do with being a first line manager? Sometimes we have to decide how to split the baby between process and people.
Most first line managers get promoted because they are an excellent worker in a department. They know the processes of the work. To be effective managers, they must learn to manage people. How do you split yourself away from your coworkers is a big problem. Some cannot make this transition. It is not easy to move from being one of the guys to being a manager. We saw this several times in our company. We say they cannot give up their union card. It is hard on them to represent the company side of any issue. The successful managers eventually learn how to save the baby.
My first line manager job was different. I did not know the process; or, the people side of the business. I did have one advantage, the restaurant operated in good order. The employees were reliable and dedicated. I just needed to listen and defer to their experience.
I graduated from the University of Alabama, two weeks later, I was a restaurant manager. I was cocky, I could do anything. I knew a manager made decisions, I must figure out how to make good ones. The employees were my guides. When I look back on this experience I was wise enough to seek help in both the people and the process of managing a restaurant.
I remember my first people problem. The night cook, Isaac threw a drunk, and did not show. I have problems boiling water, so this was a challenge to me. The waitresses said they would help me until the chef from our downtown restaurant came. There I was instant cook. I remember one order in particular, chicken livers. I told the waitress if she would show me what they looked like I would cook them. I floured the livers, put them on the grill, and cut onions on top of them, just like I saw my mother do with calf’s liver. We served them. I saw the waitress came back with the empty plate. I asked her did the customer like the livers. She said he like them, even though, he never had them cooked that way.
I told the General Manager I was going to fire Isaac. She said, “No, I will talk to him.” The next day I sent Isaac to see Ms. E. When he came back into the restaurant, I asked him if he understood the next time he did not come to work I would fire him. He said he understood. This is a tough stance for me to take. I knew enough to realize, I must require employees show up for work. I still remember the look in Isaac’s bloodshot eyes, when I told him this. He knew I meant what I said.
What does this have to do with wisdom? This was my first challenge. I responded to the challenge effectively. It just seemed like common sense, managers must have dependable employees. I came to expect an employee to challenge me each time I took over a department, one usually did. You must have courage to not accept these actions. Also, Ms. E. taught me to give employees a chance to correct their actions. Recognizing and handling people problems like this requires experience and common sense. We can call this gaining wisdom.
Process you can learn, managing people is more difficult. Managing people is not a knowledge thing, like learning a process. It requires feeling and emotional maturity. Wisdom is about making effective people decisions.