Management matters

Jul 21, 2008

For three days last week, a pile of work on my office desk notwithstanding, I was engaged in a fabulously interactive and valuable training session, called A Guide to Managing at Duke. Through this, I learned much about leadership styles and learning differences and management responsibilities — I even played a habitually tardy employee brought to tears by family health issues in a role-playing session meant to teach us about empathy and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

During the workshop, I thought back on the various management challenges I’ve encountered in the last 20 years, such as addressing an employee’s alcoholism or whistleblowing a supervisor’s abusive behavior. I also remembered the key instances when my own managers hauled me to the task, teaching me valuable lessons about procrastination and editing a story into shape.

An email midweek, sadly, made me recall another event.

Word came to me that Audrey Chapman, a writer and journalist who briefly worked with me at the ill-fated PlanetKnowHow Web startup, died at the young age of 42. (Read her obituary.)

It was my task, as Audrey’s nominal supervisor, to let her go when it became clear the company was running out of money.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, quivering from nervousness. “I won’t be far behind.” After she left, I saw her only once more, running through Cleveland’s Little Italy. By then, I, too, had been laid off.

Being a manager is a challenging job, the workshop reinforced. But the job can also be highly rewarding when done right, when people come together as a team, share a common goal, communicate clearly and constantly, succeed.

I returned to my desk today, to a long list of to-do items — a newspaper to edit, a newsletter to inaugurate, a blog-based website to launch — but also to a fantastic team working together on all those projects.

Anton Zuiker

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