Kolb’s model of adult learning explains how learning in adults occurs. According to the model, adult learning occurs in four stages (Kolb, 2015). The first stage is the experience of an event or situation (concrete experience). In the second stage, the learner reflects on the experience (reflective observation). The learner then — in the third stage — draws from theories and concepts to gain a deeper understanding of the experience (abstract conceptualization). In the fourth stage, the learner uses the experience as a basis for responding to similar occurrences in future. In this paper, I describe an experience I extremely felt motivated. I then analyze the experience based on Kolb’s model.
At my place of work, the department I work in recently got a new manager. The new manager was recruited after his predecessor retired following two decades of service to the organization. The previous manager had over the years risen through the ranks to become a manager of one of the most powerful and critical departments in the organization. The new manager has been in the organization for only five weeks and he is a complete opposite of his successor. While the previous manager preferred staying away from the day to day activities of the department, the new manager prefers to work more closely with his subordinates. He does not just give instructions and then relax in the office waiting for updates and reports. Instead, he rolls back his sleeves to work alongside his subordinates. He collaborates with his juniors to brainstorm and discuss ideas. For me, his management style has been a great source of motivation. I strongly believe that management is not just about delegating tasks or giving instructions. A good manager in my view is one who is actively involved in the tasks they delegate to their juniors.
In my organization, managers or supervisors in the caliber of the new departmental manager are quite rare. Most members of staff are used to “absent” managers. In other words, most managers have little time for their subordinates. Once they delegate tasks, they have a tendency of staying away from the team — they detach themselves from the day to day activities of their departments or teams. For many employees at the organization, such a management style sort of leaves them without anyone to lean on when things are thick. They feel like they have no one to coach or encourage them. For the new manager, however, an unusual style of management has been evident. Many members of staff in the department see the new manager as more of a coach or a facilitator as opposed to a supervisor. He actively interacts with his juniors and is always on the edge of what is happening in the department. Though a few members of staff feel that the new manager is somewhat a micromanager, most see him as a leader who leads by example, hence a great source of motivation.
Leaders within the organizational setting play a crucial role in motivating employees. Employee motivation essentially denotes an employee’s willingness to apply effort to a given task or goal (Latham, 2012). Motivation often determines how an employee is committed to work and the organization, how they interact with others at the workplace, as well as their level of productivity and performance. Leaders arouse motivation using various techniques, including financial rewards, acknowledgement, and ensuring autonomy, work-life balance, and acceptable working conditions. When employees are properly motivated, they put their best fruit forth to the benefit of both the employee and the organization. Indeed, employee motivation has been significantly associated with increased job satisfaction, employee loyalty, and productivity (Latham, 2012).
A leader’s behavior is a particularly important driver of employee motivation. In other words, a leader’s style of supervising or controlling their subordinates can greatly affect the extent to which the subordinates are motivated. In this case, the new leader’s style of management can be described as hands-on management. Hands-on management is a management style in which a manager is actively involved in the day to day duties they delegate to their subordinates (Tulgan, 2004). Rather than completely detaching themselves from the everyday activities of their function, department, or organization, hands-on managers interact directly with their subordinates, collaborate on tasks, and maintain open communication lines. As they are constantly close to their juniors, hands-on managers act as mentors and coaches, providing frequent feedback to their juniors. For employees, this can be immensely empowering and motivating. It minimizes the distance between the manager and the subordinates, thereby creating a healthy, respectful manager-subordinate relationship. When a manager is closely involved in the task at hand, they get an opportunity to hear diverse ideas from their juniors and to acknowledge their juniors for their input.
Hands-on management may sometimes be seen as micromanagement. While there is often the risk of a hands-on manager becoming a micromanager, hands-on management does not necessarily involve or mean micromanagement (Tulgan, 2004). In this case, the new manager evidently understands the thin line between hands-on management and micromanagement. Though the manager is actively present, he noticeably understands the importance of allowing individuals to work without unnecessary interference. This is the most motivating aspect of his management style — balancing between hands-on management and micromanagement. For the new manager, it is not just enough for a manager to give instructions. A good manager gives instructions, invites feedback from their juniors, and assures their subordinates of their unwavering presence and support. They lead by example, assuring their subordinates that “we are in this together.”
Hands-on management does not necessarily mean that a manager has no confidence or trust in their subordinates. A hands-on manager understands that even though employees may have adequate training to work with minimal supervision, they need constant support, encouragement, and feedback (Tulgan, 2004). A hands-on manager is better placed to offer support and encouragement compared to a hands-off manager. In other words, hands-on management is not about perfectionism or micromanagement — it is about walking together with your subordinates. This motivates subordinates as they have someone to listen to their ideas and concerns, offer guidance when required, and to praise outstanding input. Also, communication between the manager and their subordinates is improved. This is particularly true in this case. Since the new manager came, there has been more open communication between the departmental head and his subordinates. During meetings members of staff are now freer to suggest ideas and articulate their concerns. For many in the department, this is empowering and fulfilling.
One of my greatest aspirations as an individual is to become a great leader. I am deeply inspired by leaders who leave a positive impact wherever they lead. For me, the new manager provides valuable lessons as far as leadership and management is concerned. The new manager has a style of leadership that may not be common in most workplaces. He demystifies conventional notions about leadership. When you are a leader, it does not mean that you leave everything to your subordinates. Your leadership may be more effective when you delegate tasks and actively participate in accomplishing those tasks alongside your subordinates. This sends a strong message to your followers that everyone’s input is important and appreciated.
As an aspiring leader, the new leader’s style of management has greatly transformed my understanding of leadership and management. I now understand that leadership is not about sitting in the office and waiting for all the paperwork to be done by your subordinates — it is about working together with your subordinates. This is the kind of manager I desire to be. I aspire to be a collaborator, a facilitator, and a coach. I strongly believe this will set me apart especially in an environment where most managers want to show that they are in total control or they have all the authority. Authority in management is important, but rolling back your sleeves to collaborate with your juniors to accomplish a given goal or task does not necessarily mean loss of authority. By being a hands-on manager, I would be better placed to motivate my followers. I would model the behaviors I would expect them to portray.
Overall, as per Kolb’s model of learning, the experiences individuals go through in life provide important lessons. Experiences promote learning by providing an opportunity for reflection. Also, one is able to relate the experiences to future occurrences, further enhancing learning. In my case, a change of leadership at the department I work in has been a crucial learning experience. The new manager depicts a management style that has not been common in the organization — hands-on management. For me, the new manager is a practical embodiment of leadership by example. As an aspiring leader, I feel strongly motivated by his style of management. I believe his style of management will shape my future managerial behavior. Though there could be some shortcomings in his hands-on management style, I believe it is important for a manager or a leader to be closer to their subordinates or followers. This is the kind of manager I desire to be.
Kolb, D. (2015). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Latham, G. (2012). Work motivation: history, theory, research, and practice. London: SAGE.
Tulgan, B. (2004). H.O.T. Hands on transactional management. Amherst: HRD Press.
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