Indiana State University Newsroom

Business professor outlines best management practices

February 25, 2014


A strong dollar backed by the gold standard and perceived to be "as good as gold" has boosted America's credibility with trading partners worldwide and facilitated rich exchanges of goods and services that allow the U.S. economy to grow and prosper.

But when the currency is employees in the workplace, supervisors and managers should be wary of fool's gold in the form of ineffective, unmotivated workers. That's the advice from Max Douglas, professor emeritus of management in Indiana State University's Scott College of Business, in his article, "The Currency of Effective Supervision."

The article, which lays out guidelines for increasing employee productivity within the contemporary workplace, appeared late last year in Supervision - an industrial relations and operating management magazine that has published Douglas' work three times.

"My life has been about teaching leadership, management, small business, entrepreneurship and business ethics at Indiana State. ISU has been my home," said Douglas, who is in his 45th year at the university. "Based on the consulting work I've done and prior research, I felt I needed to share what I have learned about important dimensions of organizational culture, such as trust, emotional intelligence and collaboration, especially as it impacts to role of practicing managers.

Douglas said managers can build up what he has coined "behavioral currency" to better engage employees with a few tactics: practicing deep surface listening, using incremental grooming, controlling toxic emotions, delegating effectively, avoiding post-delegation hovering, establishing mutual accountability, and balancing punitive action and praise.

"I think that today, in 2014, there is still a great necessity for out-of-the-box thinking that promotes currency among employees in the workplace," he said. "When you research and study the complexities of successful management and leadership in business, you find that they're grounded in reciprocal trust, respect and collaboration between employees and their supervisors or managers."

Douglas has tested his theories in different workplaces, having been employed with General Motors Corp., before beginning a career in education teaching fifth-graders at a private school. After earning his master's degree in business, Douglas was hired as an instructor of undergraduate courses at the Indiana State School of Business in 1968.

He received his doctorate from Indiana University in 1979 and has published research on topics such as eustress (healthful stress), workplace ethics, case research, servant leadership and classroom teaching methods.

Though he completed a three-year phased retirement last year, Douglas continues working out of his second floor office in Federal Hall, while doing what he knows best in the classroom - educating students on how to be effective managers and leaders.

As they enter the work world, students will find that more than half of full-time American workers feel "uninspired and disconnected," from their work and employer. Douglas hopes that he can teach students to develop a strong leadership currency so that they can eradicate employee apathy and build a partnership based on collaboration and commitment.

Douglas teaches that contemporary managers also want to enrich relationships with their employees by improving their currency based on reciprocal trust, collaboration, and mutual respect, while not hampering an employee's ability to do assigned tasks because they have not received an appropriate amount of authority or decision making range to execute their responsibilities.

"Without knowing the scope of authority, the chance of creating gaps in an employee's performance grows exponentially," Douglas said. "Eventually, as an employer, you should want employees' circle of complexity and versatility to grow, which will improve the employee/employer relationship."

Effective managers will need to possess a high level of emotional intelligence, being especially sensitive to reactions that foster toxic emotions such as fear and anger. Supervisors should promote dialogue with their subordinates, Douglas said, and avoid emotional hijackings-- especially overreacting to situations or using comments that trigger counterproductive exchanges with employees. It is also beneficial to stay away from emotional triggers, like stereotypical terminology that could cause anger or frustration for their employees.

Instead, Douglas prefers to follow a 10:1 ratio, or the principle of affluence - for every one reprimand, a supervisor should give 10 positive affirmations.

Too often, he said supervisors follow the principle of scarcity when distributing praise and accolades to their direct reports, seldom using positive reinforcement but frequently handing out reprimands.

"Even though the use of punitive measures still supersedes the use of praise and affirmation in the workplace, there are employers, like Google who follow the principle of affluence thinking of ways to create positive workplace emotions, like hope, optimism and satisfaction," Douglas said.

Another example offered by Douglas was Sam Walton's use of management by walking around.

"When Mr. Walton visited Walmart stores he always tried to find employees who were doing things right and affirm their actions. It's OK to have a work environment with a sense of hope and fun. It's all a part of how effective supervisors create a gold currency in the workplace."


Contact: Max Douglas, professor emeritus of management, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University,

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or