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What is a good manager?

First of all, what is management? The dictionary defines management as “the act or art of managing: the conducting or supervising of something (as a business).”. Sounds about right. But then, Atilla the Hun was a manager of sorts. David Shubert claims there is a big difference between being a manager and being a “good” manager who has earned the respect of the people. Here he discusses exactly what makes a good manager.

It is interesting that the formal definition of management includes the word “art”, because in some respects, it is an art as much as a science. Just about anyone can learn the basic mechanics of becoming a manager. However, there is a certain amount of mystery in defining that extra dimension of skills and traits that elevates certain people to a status of “good” manager. What is it?

Part of it is charisma. Charisma is a sort of magical quality of magnetic charm or appeal that makes people want to follow the person who has it. Strong interpersonal skills are certainly critical to the creation of charisma, but are by no means the only ingredient. The perception of charisma must be earned through accomplishment.

A strong leader gains the respect of his/her people by actions. Principal among those actions is the involvement of the organisation in decision making. How many times have you heard someone say, “If I was running the show, I sure wouldn’t do it that way!”? It is important that the manager has the mechanisms in place that allow ideas to bubble up from all corners of the organisation. No matter how smart we think we are as managers, we certainly don’t know everything. Many of the very best ideas come from the people on the front line of the day to day business. We have to have a way for people to express those ideas and get rewarded for their contributions if the idea pans out. Delegating many of the day to day tactical decisions in no way undermines the manager’s authority or responsibility for the bigger picture. Remember this: If people have enthusiastic ownership of an idea, their idea, they WILL make it work, even if it is a BAD idea. If not, they can torpedo even a GOOD idea.

Recognising people for their contributions is one of the surest ways to secure employee loyalty and to earn the perception that the manager is smart enough to understand that he/she doesn’t know everything. Recognition and rewards are not necessarily monetary. In some cases, simple public recognition is all that is required. Recognition nurtures the ego and differientiates people from their peers. Recognition just makes a person feel good and stimulates the desire to have it happen again.

If a manager utilises the people to help develop the organisation’s mission statement, then the people will follow. Having a solid and workable mission statement is critical to organisational success. It can serve as the basis for decision making. If you bounce an idea off the mission statement and it sticks, you might do it. Otherwise, forget it. For example, if you are in the business of developing the worlds best diagnostic software, you are not going to open a resturant to raise extra cash. That would be way outside the mission statement. See the point? All tactical decisions should fit within the mission statement.

Next, a “good” manager is a strategic thinker. The manager should have at least a five to ten year view of the future. Where does the organisation want to be in five years and tactically, what needs to be done today, tomorrow, next week or next month to get there? Nothing can undermine a manager faster than having the organisation perceive that the manager has no idea of direction.

Then, there is integrity. A manager has to be seen by his superiors and his employees as being honest and forthright and doesn’t play silly political games. No one likes a sleazy character that cannot be trusted, especially if that person is in charge of the careers of people. Would you?

The “good” manager fights for his/her people and they know it. Everyone knows that outstanding performers are amply rewarded and substandard performers are penalised or eliminated. People know that the decisions made by the manager well thought out and are in the best interest of the organisation. An employee may not like the fact that the manager had to cut their pet project out of the budget. But if the employee is in tune with the organisation, he/she will understand why it had to be done.

A “good” manager is highly selective when building the “culture” the organisation. People hired should “fit” the collective personality of the organisation. Loners and hotheads should not be merged into an organisation of people who genuinely like each other and work well together. Think about the best sports teams. The very best ones are those where the members are more like family than team mates.

Finally, the “good” manager will spend the extra time to collect the information necessary to show how valuable the organisation is to the company. This can take any number of forms such as cost savings, cost avoidance, improved process, improved productivity, and so on. Then the manager makes sure everyone knows about it, from top to bottom. It is vital that the people feel they are important and are making a contribution to the overall success of the company.

There is no magic formula for becoming a “good” manager and the points mentioned above are certainly not an exhaustive list. Some of it is instinct, but it mostly stems from the gut-level understanding that the most important thing in an organisation is its people. Treat people with respect and dignity and you will get that back in spades.

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