Management styles: chutes, shields, and shows

I’m becoming convinced that there are three basic types of managers: chutes, shields, and shows.  Each of these types should be preceded by a certain word that I won’t say on my blog, so let’s call it stuff.

English: Chute spillway of Pando dam
English: Chute spillway of Pando dam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stuff Chutes

Especially if you’re a new manager, is is incredibly easy to be a stuff chute. If you’re a chute, you take all the stuff generated above you, concentrate it, and direct it directly at your staff. You’re a chute if you:

  • Always tell your team about any and all stress/upset by the Powers That Be (PTBs)
  • Use implied pressure from the Powers That Be to motivate your staff (note: NOT motivating. NOT. No way, no how.)
  • Ensure that the Powers That Be know exactly who did anything wrong (who wasn’t you)

If you haven’t figured it out, you don’t want to be a chute. Maybe you think you’re doing things right by being transparent about the “hair on fire” attitude of the PTBs, but what you’re really doing is concentrating all of the stuff from them and stressing out your team with it. Unfortunately, chutes tend to have stressed out staff who dislike their employers, which leads to morale and retention problems.

E3 2011 - Captain America's shield from Captai...
E3 2011 – Captain America’s shield from Captain America: the First Avenger (Sega) (Photo credit: Pop Culture Geek)

Stuff Shields

It’s definitely harder to be a stuff shield. You have to walk the tightrope between transparency with your team and shielding them from the stuff from above. You’re a shield if you:

  • Give your team credit for everything that goes right while taking the blame for everything that doesn’t
  • When the PTBs go into panic mode, indicate that there’s stress above, but don’t go into enough detail to pass that stress along
  • Motivate your team positively, rather than with threats

In the battle of the corporate world, shields sometimes fail (as you might), but you can always re-arm.  (Did I push that metaphor too far? Sorry about that…)

Closed red curtain at the Coolidge Corner Thea...
Closed red curtain at the Coolidge Corner Theatre – landscape (Photo credit: brokentrinkets)

Stuff Shows

The most annoying managers create their own stuff, so I call them stuff shows. They might also be chutes – or even (rarely) shields – but they primarily function as shows. You might be a show if you:

  • Regularly lose your temper or show your extreme stress to your team, especially in the context of trying to make them do things
  • Give your staff instructions, only to change them afterwards (possibly multiple times) with no justification or explanation to help them understand why the change is necessary
  • Expect your team to read your mind, and chastise them for not conforming to your (secret) requirements

I can come up with an almost endless list of how to be a show, but I’m hoping you get the idea.

Clearly, you’d rather be a shield than a chute or a show. Unfortunately, I’ve seen very few managers who are shields who haven’t spent significant time and effort on meeting the needs of their team. How to be a shield, however, is a post for another day.

2 thoughts on “Management styles: chutes, shields, and shows

  1. Great post. Here’s the thing. I think most managers are, at different times, stuff chutes, stuff shields, or stuff shows. I sincerely hope that I spend most of my time as a stuff shield, I wholeheartedly endorse the characteristics of the stuff shield manager! However, I think I see some of my actions in the stuff chute manager as well. I’ve always tried to be transparent with my managers and beyond that, I’ve always felt that managers, at the very least directors, should be able to handle the stress of knowing what is driving the plans and thought processes of the PTBs. At least, to the extent that sharing with them isn’t inappropriate. Now I’m wondering, do I share too much with my team? Maybe I do, but I also think that one of the most successful aspects of management at my firm is the openness with which top management shares with the management team. Knowing what’s driving decisionmaking at the top is often comforting as well as concerning. If you don’t use the knowledge in place of legitimate positve reinforcement but instead as a means of giving responsible people the knowledge necessary to do their jobs intelligently, I believe it makes them better managers.

    1. Jim, you’re not wrong.

      I’m going to beat my dead horse of an analogy even further here by saying that the strength of the shield a person needs is entirely dependent on the person and the role. Higher-level directors & managers are better trained warriors, so they don’t need shields as heavy. In fact, too heavy a shield will massively slow them down.

      I know many of your managers and directors, and I can tell you that they don’t need much shielding. That said, I’ll bet that, when your managing partner throws a fit at something (this is in theory only, of course), you don’t immediately concentrate everything he or she says and direct it at your directors. You’re probably a light, transparent shield, but you’re a shield nonetheless.

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