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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Good Managers

Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. ~ Paul Hawken

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work. ~ Peter Drucker

A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him. ~ HSM Burns

In my last post I spoke of the kinds of bad managers. Of course, I only listed the worst offenders. Every manager has their own style and while there is a basic formula for doing their job, there is enough lee way for some personal variation. We spoke about what the pitfalls are of the more extreme cases, though we didn't talk much on what happens when a manager is either not present or so laid back that nothing gets done. I figured it does not need much elaboration. I will, however, extol the virtues of a good manager.

According to Leadership 501 the following five traits are what makes a good manager or leader:
  • Honest
  • Inspiring
  • Forward-Looking
  • Competent
  • Intelligent
While this is very true, I would like to add something to the list: People skills. If you are incapable of listening to the needs of the people under you and only care about the bottom line and using them, then you are missing a vital aspect of good stewardship of your position. You must remember that your underlings are not tools, but people and as people they have needs and individual characteristics that require individual attention and treatment. If your group is too large for individual treatment, then you need to adapt and learn how to balance how you act accordingly, which is probably even smarter when you have any kind of group over all. Some people have thicker skins than others, allowing them to take sterner and harsher  treatment than others, others are much too sensitive for this and there is no shame in that. We are all different people, but if you treat people with mutual respect then generally you will find that you will recieve that same respect in return for your efforts. On the subject of respect, we are not saying it is necessary to be buddy buddy with them. I am also not saying you should remain coldly distant, either. Regardless of how you feel about Christian Ethics, the Golden Rule is always a winner - Treat others how you would wish to be treated. It's not that hard. As a plus, it also applies very nicely to how you treat your customers.

On that list we have Honesty mentioned. If you are honest, people will trust you. Simple, right? Even if you do not like the answer you get, the honesty will buy you some points with folks. Just try not to go so overboard that you would cause people to want to be standoffish. I am just saying don't lie - but why not hold back that little tidbit that you like to dress dogs in panty hose and make up, hm? Crazy don't sell. It certainly will make you either a laughing stock or treated like you could go whack-o. So, it is probably good to strike some kind of balance.

Inspiring managers or leaders are the easiest to follow. Sadly, even the worst leaders can gain a massive following if they are inspiring. Certainly explains some of our presidents, doesn't it? It sure as hell explains how Germany in the early 20th century chose Hitler for a leader. Really now? Really? Human psychology is built for wanting to follow the most promising figure, regardless of how competent or incompetent. The important thing to do is remember to not get all caught up in your own thing and fling your group into turmoil and chaos just as easily as being too tight or too laid back. My advice right here is be realistic in your goals, plans, and demands. Empty promises and shallow praise will only get you so far once your people realize the pot at the end of the rainbow is empty. Promise only what you can actually achieve, praise what is actually praise worthy.

Forward looking means simply that you are planning for the future. Just be realistic about it, though. I agree with Leadership 501's Mark Shead when he says that a visionary is a person 'whose ideas or projects are impractical.' It is very true to consider that the simple fact of the matter is there is a difference between planning for the future and creating unrealistic goals. You must consider the needs of the employees and clients. There is no siding with only one for this matter. A good manager knows how to prepare them self and their team for the most immediate futures and plan for various scenarios. I don't mean be paraniod, but in this case, it might not hurt. Plans for emergencies, missing members who called out sick, etc are all very important. Plans for how to improve are also important, you just need to be realistic for what you have. Polishing floors might be a great idea for a show room where you are showing off some glitzy jewelry or fancy electronics, but doing the same for a warehouse store can be a very dangerous and bad idea. Sam's Club did that very same thing in the name of making it more like a normal store in one of their stores. In the end, the floors were too slick for the forklifts, thus creating more accidents. It also wound up loosing its sheen within four or five months thereby making it a rather wasted effort and cost.

Competence is pretty self explanatory. I'll keep this one short.  Competence is knowing what to do and when to do it. It is also knowing when not to do it. More importantly, how to do your job. In all honesty, if you can't do the job of your underlings, then you probably shouldn't be a manager. In the very least not of that particular group. There is a saying in sales that goes 'know your product', well it applies to your staff as well as your business. If you cannot do the job, then at least have a working knowledge of how it works, or in the very least be willing to listen to what they tell you they are capable of doing.

I am not getting into the intelligence. You either are smart or you aren't. Its just common sense that needs to be worked on from there. IQ can take you only so far, but do not mistake a vast amount of knowledge for intellect. Yes, it is important to be smart, but with a lack of knowledge and skills, you really cannot expect to take your team very far. Knowledge is power as the saying goes. Just don't confuse knowledge for intellect. Even Rain Man knew a lot of facts, but he was not necessarily a genius.

So what is management?

“Management” (from Old French ménagement “the art of conducting, directing”, from Latin manu agere “to lead by the hand”) characterises the process of leading and directing all or part of an organization, often a business, through the deployment and manipulation of resources (human, financial, material, intellectual or intangible). …

Be a guide to your people, firm but gentle. Compassionate, but not to the point where your position means nothing. Just remember to balance things out. Remember that the Chain of Command was never meant to be used as a bludgeon. A good manager is like a good shepherd. The shepherd guides his flocks, not by screaming at his sheep, but by protecting them from the wolves and lions, and by providing them what they need to do their thing. A safe bet is that if managers are to act like shepherds, then you can bet their flocks will follow them.

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