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Are You An Absentee Manager?

Furniture World Magazine


Today, many in positions of authority consider the concept of Participative Management to be the most productive and proficient in molding and motivating business associates.

Participative Management involves interactive communication, an open mind, an open-door policy and a pro-active philosophy on the part of experienced managers to mentor associates.

Due to the press of time, managers may become so focused on urgent matters they fail to allocate time to groom associates that are under their supervision and tutelage.

Because of workloads and time constraints, we frequently find that retail managers are guilty of absentee management, which is the opposite of participative management.

It is the norm for us to think of an absentee manger as forsaking the workplace in favor of basking in the tropical sun, enjoying Bermuda beaches or snowy ski slopes. But dedicated leaders may be guilty of absentee management even though they may work in adjacent offices, on the same floor, in close proximity for years.

Supervisors that reflect the absentee management syndrome may be excellent employees from the standpoint of accomplishing their job descriptions and technical tasks but may be lacking in the leadership skills required to motivate and challenge associates to reach their business and personal potential.

Participative Management Principles

Today young, aspiring associates, not only want but expect to be mentored and trained for advancement in their careers by immediate supervisors.

The most successful managers that practice participative leadership find time to:

Become personally involved: reflect an interest in the personal and professional lives of those associates whose careers are dependent upon your administrative decisions.

Share decision-making rationales: Management by example has merit. But many managers also understand that proactively sharing proven principles based on experience helps their associates better understand the logic and basis for corporate decisions and policies that are enacted.

Understanding how and why decisions are made is critical in maintaining corporate morale and motivation.

Build good attitudes and confidence: More than just coaching personnel under our leadership to work within corporate guidelines, it is critical that we help develop and maintain proper and positive mental attitudes.

Astute leaders understand the importance of helping to cultivate and maintain confidence in the decisions and direction of the corporation by personnel at all levels.

One or two employees with no regard for quality or confidence in leadership can do irreparable damage. Unfortunately their dissatisfaction feeds on other associates.

Exit interviews frequently make us aware that more employees leave their place of employment because of discontent with their immediate supervision than their job or the corporation that employs them.

America’s leading psychologist, Dr Karl Menninger, advises that “attitudes are more important than facts”. This is especially true in the world of retailing where hours are long, weekends are required, competition and the economy is challenging and peak performance is critical because of the limited time we have in front of prospective buyers.

Include associates in decision making: While recognition and appreciation are the primary principles to successfully motivate most employees, it is significant that we remain cognizant of the fact that the second most successful method of motivation for group oriented personnel is to be accepted and included as a member of the team.

Being excluded, in business and personal affairs is both demoralizing and depressing. Some suggest it is a form of “bullying”.

Successful managers understand and implement programs to ensure associates feel they are included in continuous improvement of procedures and processes to: reduce costs, improve quality and service, increase customer satisfaction and enhance image.

Mentor associates: Significant studies reveal that many successful leaders who reach positions of power have been fortunate to have had an associate recognize their potential and adopt or mentor them on their journey up the corporate ladder.

They have not been required to stand alone, even though they possess and perform with unusual skills.

Being a self-starter and an independent achiever is considered a necessary and commendable attribute. But having a supervisor who takes the time to mentor or function as a “big brother” is mutually beneficial. The time invested helps senior colleges more proficiently evaluate skills and attitudes when reviews are required and paves the way to help subordinates develop the confidence to make sound decisions in areas that leaders may not or don’t have the time in which to be involved.

Bring value to associates’ lives: Larry Appley, former president of the American Management Association and an inspired leader who steered the organization through many of its formative years and current policies, suggests throughout his scripts on successful leadership “that more than focusing on just corporate profits, a successful leader brings value to the lives of others”.

This principle not only refers to external customers and vendors but includes our internal customers ranging from shipping personnel to sales associates including their families and friends. The practice of absentee management doesn’t readily accomplish the goal articulated by Mr. Appley.

Participative management doesn’t require that managers abdicate their position of authority in the chain of command. The general rule is that it encourages a mere compelling attitude of cooperation at all levels.

Danger of Satellite Status Employees

If we allow associates to drift from the mainstream to assume the role of “satellite status” employees, they frequently become more challenging to manage and motivate.

It is estimated that by the year 2050 as much as 25 to 30 percent of our administrative workforce will regularly function outside the confines of corporate headquarters.

Office space, investments in electronic equipment, energy expenses and personnel benefits will be reduced. Employees will spend less time commuting, and have more flexibility. That’s all good news. On the downside, the ability to motivate, manage and communicate will become more challenging.

One-on-one planned and spontaneous exchanges will become less frequent. Written memos and texting will become more prevalent and formal. Understanding and interpretation will become more difficult.

Educators suggest that 55% of that which we communicate is conveyed through vocal melody and inflection of voice. Formal exchanges lack those attributes. The result will challenge the leadership and communication skills of even the most proficient policy makers.

The successful systems we teach today will be the tools that those who follow in our footsteps will reference and employ as successful management principles tomorrow.

Depending on the size and structure of your retail organization, you may not be able to develop the kinds of personal relationships you want to have with all associates. But taking the time to relate to them in a meaningful manner across all levels in the chain of command can have a positive and lasting impact.

Policy vs. Personnel

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “This time, like most times, is a very good time if we know but what to do with it”.

Frequently, when business executives feel an activity is low on their priority list, they rationalize that they will address that situation when they have time in the future.

Because your decisions may effect the ability of your subordinates to perform and achieve today’s tasks, in many instances the future is NOW.

Many well-meaning managers with limited vision feel their time is best spent on matters of policy rather than personnel. NOT true.

Some senior managers feel that motivation and productivity of line employees are issues that should be the sole responsibility of direct supervisors. NOT true.

Steps to eliminate “Absentee management”

1. Take time on a periodic basis to brainstorm on all levels within the organization. You may wish to advise in advance certain subjects that are off limits. Not all ideas or feedback have merit but most employees have ideas and appreciate the opportunity to be given an audience to be heard. Ask opinions and ideas on:
  • Cost reduction. 
  • Redundant activities. 
  • Productivity. 
  • Competition. 
  • New products. 
  • New trends in the changing marketplace. 
  • How to build the brand.
2. Take time to make yourself available on matters of concern before associates spin-out-of control.

3. Take time to leave the confines of your office and visit with your associates at their workstations, on the sales floor, in the warehouse and at the point of delivery.

4. Take time to show a personal interest in your associates and their families. Knowledge of a person’s name is one of the most meaningful words in your vocabulary.

5. Take time to write personal notes of recognition and appreciation. Notes of this nature that are taken home and shared with a spouse and family are most meaningful and have long-term benefit.

6. Take time to understand individual differences, but treat all with consistency. Showing preferential treatment is readily evident and creates confusion and resentment within the ranks.


Properly managed and motivated employees conduct themselves with excellence whether they are in your presence, working in teams or they are working individually on projects.

Involved leaders rather than absentee managers have the ability to build a team in which all associates are considered meaningful members from career associates to part-time employees.

John Donne wrote: “No man is an island”.

We all require space but allowing associates to feel isolated, and unsure of their future leads to a feeling of unimportance and eventually separation.

Enlightened leaders have found it is creditable to be “in-command” and have their directives followed without question but still be appreciated by associates at all levels in the chain of command.

Charismatic leaders create a vision and recruit teams that work collectively to achieve a common goal. They have the ability to be both liked and respected.
Both in business and personal relationships, Emerson summed it up succinctly when he said, “the only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Author Jim Collins, in his book “From Good To Great” briefed his audience on the role of every astute manager.

He opined that helping those that are willing to entrust their future by subordinating themselves to our leadership and management training is an awesome and meaningful responsibility. We should not view the obligation lightly.

We encourage and challenge all in positions of authority to take the time to respond accordingly.

Ray Morefield has been affiliated with leading corporations in the housewares, hardware and coatings industries. He has also served other industries in an advisory capacity through Common Goals, Inc. Questions or comments can be sent to him by emailing editor@furninfo.com.