Ted Kramer didn't have to lose his job when his wife walked out and left him with their son. His problem, claims management consultant Alice G. Sargent, was an unsympathetic boss.
The conflicting demands of job and home could have been met -- to both Kramer's and the firm's advantage -- in a variety of ways, says Sargent, who often uses the Academy Award "Kramer Vs. Kramer" movie as an example in her work.
Psychologist Sargent, who advises private corporations and government agencies on employe relations, believes that modern managers -- both men and women -- can profit by blending the best masculine traits (aggressiveness, for example) with those considered more feminine (helpfulness).
"To produce more effective managers," she says, "men and women need to develop behaviors traditionally assigned to the opposite sex." She calls the blend "the androgynous manager," also the title of her book to be published this fall by the American Management Association.
Such a manager, she says, "is both dominant and yielding, combining independence with playfulness and nurturing."
Before the split with his wife, Kramer (dustin Hoffman), all but ignored his family to devote his energies to his job. His boss loved him and his career prospered.
But as a single parent, he had to cut back office hours when, for example, his son needed to be picked up after school. That the boss didn't like.
Sargent sees Kramer's firing as the boss' macho male response to a home-office conflict: "If you can't do it our way, you're not a company man."
An androgynous boss, tempering company concerns with a more caring (feminine) attitude toward Kramer's dilemma, might have said: "I'll give you, say, four months to get your personal life in shape. Go see a psychologist if you want to. Hire a babysitter and a back-up system."
If Kramer took time off to pick up his son, says Sargent, the boss could have let him make up the hours at another time. Kramer might have been able to take his son to the office Saturday mornings to maintain his high output.
That, Sargent says, is "problem-solving that taking into account feelings."
Right now, she says, the concept of the androgynous manager is still at "the consciousness-awareness level. People are beginning to see how to reshape their perceptions," but "this is only the first toenail in the water."
Nevertheless, reports Sargent, there is some evidence of changing managerial styles in performance appraisal forms. One major corporation evaluates it managers on such social skills as "how open, honest and fair" they are with subordinates, and whether they make "a good coach and mentor."
One top executive she knows -- "an old-style, tough-upper-lip, nose-to-the-grindstone man" -- was passed over for promotion three times. His bosses, he learned, felt he "wasn't into showing tenderness and vulnerability."
Sargent's ideas, she says, have been well received at some agencies which might be considered "the most machooriented" in the federal government. (She prefers not to identify those clients, for the sake of privacy).
She recently lectured a three-week class on management skills to super-grade federal employees at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville. During the noontime volleyball breaks, the Gs-15s through 18s at first transferred their office-hour competitiveness, she says, to the playing ground. t
But after awhile, they asked if there was some way they could revise the rules to be more collaborative and less competitive.
What they had done, she says, "is come all the way to pastoral Charlottesville to recreate the Washington scene. They were seeing that competitiveness is not all good."
In this case, many of the managers were in their 40s, the time when many people begin to ask themselves, "Am I ready to do this for another 20 years?"
The interest in the blended manager, claims Sargent, is the result "of a growing sense on the part of top-level managers that they have gone as far as they can in increasing productivity through improved technology." They are concluding that from now on "significant change will only be realized by paying attention to people."
At the same time, organizations are becoming aware of the ramifications of on-the-job stress. Many workers assume "a can-do approach," doing whatever they are asked without "acknowleging human frailities," at a cost to both physical and mental health.
Another factor is the increasing number of women reaching top management levels who "have raised one more challenge to norms and values." If women managers are to avoid being forced into male styles, Sargent says, "the entire organizational culture needs to be studied."
Women, says Sargent, have grown up learning "passivity" and what psychologists call "learned helplessness."'
In the office, women entering management tend to "smooth over conflict," "smile too much," "allow themselves to be interrupted." They require of themselves "more expertise than a man would before venturing an opinion." They "let theirvoices trail off when making an important point" and "laugh at the end of an important sentence."
Often, she says, they give away their power, tend to be reluctant to take charge and "fail to demand adequate resources for their programs, or training for themselves and their subordinates."
Men, on the other hand, she says, "have been taught to overemphasize power." Many "naturally slip into one-up/one-down interactions, even when unnecessary." They "distance themselves in many of their relationships, both business and social."
One group of lawyers, says Sargent, was surprised to learn how their individual competitiveness hindered team effectiveness. Each was forcefully competing (to the detriment of their task) "over the turn of a phrase that wasn't even central to the issue they were working on."
To operate more effectively, Sargent says men "need to learn to decrease their exhibitionism and jockeying for power and to express vulnerability and feelings."
Women "must learn to be more analytical and assertive, to argue in a logical and systematic manner, to work effectively even when relationships are negative and to share their competence with other women."
The effective manager, Sargent concludes, "is someone with both leadership skills and supporting and helping behaviors."