Now let’s contrast the attributes of an effective leader with those of an effective manager.  Let me preface this chapter by stipulating that I make no judgments regarding the absolute merits of leaders or managers; only to point out that there is a difference.    In order to be an effective manager one needs to effectively accomplish the items put forth in the following pages.

Set objectives:

Effective managers tend to be very goal oriented.  The only way to understand if we are progressing toward the goal is to set a course with specific objectives along the way.  The quickest way to disorient an entire organization is to lack clear objectives for the organization.  This is important every step of the way.  In most cases it is not enough to set annual objectives.  Most organizations require at least quarterly objectives and some daily.  What distinguishes a great manager from a good one is the consistency of the objectives.  In order to be truly successful in this endeavor, these objectives must be clear, specific and actionable.  These objectives must be set in such a way that the members of the team know when they have or have not accomplished them.  They also need to be visible enough to stay at the forefront of the team’s attention and focus.  These objectives should be communicated and followed up in such a way that the team members are thinking about how to accomplish them when they first awake in the morning.

Build strategies to fulfill established objectives:

Occasionally a manager will come across an employee who is so self-motivated and clear-headed that the manager merely needs to provide the employee with the objectives and get out of the way.  I stress the word occasionally because in most cases it is not enough to merely state the objectives for your team.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that very few of us are good enough communicators to state the objectives clearly enough that each member of the team understands them in the same way.  By building strategies to accomplish the objectives, the objectives themselves become more crystallized by the team.  The second and more obvious reason to build strategies is that without them you have only a slim chance of accomplishing them.  It is hard to get action without an action plan.

These strategies do not have to be developed solely by the manager.  In fact, I suggest that strategies should be developed with a team.  Depending on the size of the organization you might choose every member of your team to help develop the strategy or just a select few individuals.  By using a team approach you will find that it aids in helping you crystallize the objectives, and enables you to develop strategies that are actionable, aggressive and achievable.  In some instances, it is also helpful to enlist the help of others from outside your team to help you in this endeavor.  Sometimes your customers, suppliers or business partners have a very clear vantage point in this area and can be of great benefit.  Keep in mind, however, that these people will often have their own agenda regarding your business.  Outside consultants are another source of help.  Find one that is skilled in helping your team develop your strategies.  Beware of firms that offer “cookie cutter” strategies that are handed over to you in a nice, well-organized binder.  These are tempting because they require limited work on your part and they look good on the shelf.  They are useless.  You must resist the temptation to abdicate your responsibility for the establishment of these strategies.  As an effective manager, they are yours to develop with your team.

Put actions in motion to ensure strategies are played out:

Once strategies are clearly defined and communicated, there needs to be series of actions defined to execute on the strategy.  These actions can also be put together jointly with the team.  These actions must have dates and names associated with them.  What I have found most useful is to have someone on your team that is particularly effective in the area of project management.  If you cannot afford to have someone like that on your team, learn how to do it yourself.  There is nothing quite as effective at ensuring actions be put into motion than to have a clearly articulated project plan that everyone can see.  Today there are several software packages available to assist you in doing this.  What I am talking about, however, is more than putting the actions on a timeline with names and comments.  This process requires constant attention toward the progress in completing these actions.  I have found that this is one of the more tedious and unwelcome tasks in an organization, because we are being constantly reminded of what we have to do.  Nobody likes being told they are delinquent, but this effort is an essential ingredient in putting actions in motion to accomplish your strategies.

Set, communicate, and adjust priorities to meet objectives:

No matter how good you are at planning there will always be issues of priority to deal with.  There are only so many hours in the day and so many resources at your disposal.  A good manager must be able to clearly establish the priorities for the organization, and communicate them to everyone in the organization.  This is one area where managers sometimes fall short.  Often managers are quicker to understand and embrace change.  Some of this is the result of being closer to the decision process, and being involved in more facets of the organization.  Because they are able to more easily understand what needs to be done, they often presume that everyone in the organization has come along at the same pace.   This presumption causes them to neglect the need for constant and complete communication of objectives and priorities associated with the desired outcome.  Effectively they are projecting their attitudes and approach, not being sensitive to the differences of those around them.  In short they are not effective in this area because they cannot understand why people “just don’t get it”.  I have been associated with some fine managers and leaders over the years and this seems to be a very common fault in their technique.  The ones who have been able to overcome this technique have approached it in different ways.

One way good managers overcome this obstacle is by working very hard to see things through the eyes of their people.  They do this by putting themselves in situations with their team that allow them better to understand their world and the things that are likely to cause fear, uncertainty and doubt in their minds.  To do this effectively, it is important that you truly meet them in their world.  A popular technique in recent years has been a renewal of a very old approach—Town Meetings.  This is where the manager gets up in front of the entire team or a large subset of the team, gives and inspirational message, and then opens it up for questions.  While this technique can be very effective in communicating a message or letting people see you in a more intimate setting, it is unlikely to give you a true view into their world.  To get into their world you have to work beside them frequently enough that it does not require a command performance on their part or yours.  That type of exposure allows the walls of organizational hierarchy to come down long enough for you to get a real glimpse into their thinking.  I have no easy solution or fancy gimmick to sell you here, but I can tell you where to start: be around and be available.  Put yourself in situations where you have occasion to talk with your folks about business matters where they are expert and where you want to learn.  Notice that I did not suggest hanging around to be buddies with them.  Unless there is a natural chemistry in this area I would stay away from more personal discussion.  Often, delving into more personal matters can be viewed by some as “prying” and by others as a feeble attempt at appearing human.  I am talking about business. Specifically, business that temporarily takes you out of the “boss” role.   Trying to make this kind of contact with everyone in the organization can be a daunting task.  If you have an organization that is too large to effectively get to know all of them, find the handful of people on the team that have their finger on the pulse of the organization and effectively represent the world in which they live.  A word of caution here, be very careful not to select only those people who see things as you do, and make sure to have enough diversity in your selection to get a cross-section view.  This is hard work but the payoff can be enormous.

Another way good managers overcome the obstacle of not knowing how their people understand and accept change is to surround themselves with people who are more sensitive to the tenor of the organization.  Let’s face it, some people find it easier to “feel your pain”!  That can be a significant asset to have at your disposal when you are a very busy manager in a very busy world.  It is very important as a leader to understand your weaknesses and be humble enough to get help from people who have strengths in those areas.

Effectively and efficiently utilize resources:

Growing up in the United States it is easy to take for granted the abundance of natural resources we have.  All one has to do is spend time in a country that is not as rich in these natural resources to begin to appreciate our bounty.  The same holds true when it comes to leadership. Often managers in large organizations overlook the value the resources at their disposal because they are so plentiful.  On the contrary leaders in small organizations often relish the resources they have.  I have in the past recruited from some of the most prestigious business schools in the country.  Frequently, when reviewing various candidates’ resumes, I would learn many had run successful small businesses prior to earning an MBA.  When asked why they gave up a successful business, to spend $80,000 a year to get an MBA, so they could go to work for a multinational corporation, the response was often a surprise to me.  It wasn’t the candidates’ desire to see more of the world or to live in new places that motivated them to give up what they had and endure the pain associated with an advanced degree in a very rigorous environment.  It also was not the challenge to try something new and different.  More often it was to find a place where resources were more plentiful.   They were bright and energetic people who felt they were limited by the resources available to them.   With a large corporation they saw an opportunity to take their ideas further than they could ever take them with the limited resources they possessed.  One of the most commonly underestimated resources in a large organization is its people.  A former colleague of mine was once the CEO of an 18 million dollar company.  That company over the years was forced into reorganization and was sold.  When asked what could have made the difference in success and failure he did not hesitate.  He said that they were basically doing everything right as a company but were unable to take it to the next level to make it really thrive and grow.  He attributed their inability to take it to the next level to the quality of people he had on his team.  They were effective in their own right but none of them were exceptional in their ability to break the mold to help him move the business forward.  He indicated that the thing he most appreciated about a larger corporation was that, because of its size, there were a number of exceptional people within the organization available to be harvested to grow the business and make it thrive.   He also was amazed at how most leaders within those organizations did not recognize the significance of that resource.

As a leader, it is extremely important to seek out what resources you have at your disposal and utilize them efficiently and effectively.  Care for them.  Nurture them.  Utilize them.

Establish measures of success:

There is an old saying, “inspect what you expect”.  Over the years I have experimented with several schools of thought on management.  Some of them have dealt in the area of measurements.  The opinions in this area vary wildly.  They range from eliminating all but the most top-level measurements to measuring everything that moves.  Some argue that measuring too many things stifles creativity and drives the organization to not fully realize its potential.  I must admit that this is one area where my intuition has not served me well over the years, and my success has come through some pretty hard knocks.  Initially I leaned more toward the school of minimal measurements.  The reason—I personally found it very easy to draw a connection between my accomplishments or failures and the goals of the organization, and I was extremely motivated to be successful at contributing to those goals.

Over the years I have learned two things.  First, not everyone in the organization is self-motivated, and even those who are self-motivated will sometimes slack up when the pressure is off.  Secondly, the ability to understand the correlation between our role or contribution and the overarching goals of the organization is often elusive and requires an ability to think in the abstract.  Some people are very effective in the abstract.  Others are not.  This has nothing to do with knowledge or intelligence.  Some of the smartest people I know struggle in the abstract.  Maybe this is a left-brain, right-brain thing.  I don’t know.  But I do know that we have different capacities in this area.  If an individual has trouble dealing in the abstract, they may also have trouble “connecting the dots” between what they do on a daily basis and how it affects the achievement of the overarching goals of the organization.  If we want everyone in the organization paddling in the same direction with the same sense of urgency we better help him or her connect the dots, and continually remind them of how they are doing.

Connecting the Dots.

It is amazing to me today how many physical fitness programs are available to the public.  Most of them promise the same thing—lose weight, lose inches, feel great and look great.  Billions of dollars every year are spent on these programs because without them people have trouble connecting the dots.  The goal is straightforward and simple.  Why do we need programs to accomplish these?  Without them we either don’t understand or lose sight of the correlation between our behavior and our physical fitness.  Unless we are constantly reminded that aerobic exercise over an extended period burns calories and fat, or that strength training builds muscle mass, increases bone density, and increases the base metabolic rate, we lose sight of how to lose weight and inches.

It is no coincidence that marathon runners wear stopwatches and heart monitors.  They realize that if they are running too slow in the first couple of miles they can never make it up.  They also know that if they are running too fast at any point in the race they can hit the wall too quickly, blowing the race.  Most runners will tell you that their tendency is to start out too fast because of the excitement of the race.  Because of the adrenaline pumping through their bloodstream, they could operate in that mode for quite some time without noticing the ill effects on their bodies, but they won’t finish the marathon that way.  They need to have an objective monitoring system that allows them to continually check their progress along the way.  If not, they can easily be fooled into thinking all is well when they are actually heading for trouble.

Likewise, I have seen individuals in business become so caught up in the race to capture additional market share, close a deal, execute on an initiative or finish a project, they lose sight of the overarching objective of the organization.  As such, a lot of energy is expended, and work is accomplished, but it often ends up being at cross-purposes with the broader goals of the organization.

Track progress:

Typically when we speak of measuring success, we refer to pre-established measurements based on standards.  An example of this kind of measurement would be taking a resting heart rate or measuring someone’s blood pressure.  In a resting state, we know that a heart rate somewhere between 50 and 72 beats per minute is considered OK, depending on the individual’s age and the frequency of aerobic exercise they receive.  We also know that at blood pressure of 120 over 80 is about right.  If that same individual is going through some significant change these standards can be very misleading.  Suppose you measure someone’s heart rate and blood pressure immediately after they rescued a small child from a four-story building that is on fire, while under sniper attack. In this case a heart rate of 180, and a blood pressure of 160 over 110 might be considered quite normal.  If, however, you were to apply the “resting heart rate” measurements you would likely overmedicate the individual.

In today’s world we are constantly faced with the need to change, which means that we are often in some form of building or transition stage.  In those times merely looking at established measurements to monitor the organization’s health can be deceiving.  It is important to ensure there are also a series of milestones and checkpoints that are predetermined throughout the process to see how we are doing.  During these times we need to understand that the results may not appear “normal” to us.  Instead we need to predict how the transition or change that is occurring may temporarily affect them and track our progress along the way.  If two days after our hero’s incident occurred his blood pressure and heart rate has not declined, we may need to take some action.

Effective Managers Summary

While it is clearly helpful for an effective manager to possess some or all of the characteristics attributed to great leaders, it is more important that he or she focus on the execution of specific goals over a defined period of time.  To do that effectively it is important to rigorously execute on the items just mentioned.  In summary, it is important to:

  • Set Objectives
  • Build strategies to fulfill established objectives
  • Put actions in motion to ensure strategies are played out
  • Set, communicate, and adjust priorities to meet objectives
  • Effectively and efficiently utilize resources
  • Establish measures of success
  • Track progress

In order to accomplish the above, certain characteristics are required.  The following is the list of characteristics prevalent in strong managers.

  • Results Oriented Highly Disciplined
  • Highly Organized Detail Oriented
  • Good Listener Candid
  • Goals Driven vs Politically Driven Technically Sound
  • Organizationally focused

While this list is not necessarily comprehensive, it is meant to point out the differences between leaders and managers.  Being a good manager does not guarantee success as a leader, and being an inspired leader does not guarantee success as a manager.

Take me out to the ball game!

There are numerous professions we can draw from to illustrate the manager’s role.  I will pick an area that most people can relate to either as a participant or a spectator; the baseball manager. You may think that using a baseball manager is stretching the concept of manager, but there is a very valid reason they are called managers rather than coaches.  A coach in baseball is someone who works with a specific and predefined segment within the organization.  They are focused on getting the maximum output from that segment, while keeping them both physically and mentally healthy.  Take the example of the pitching coach.  They are in charge of a very specific skill set of the team – pitchers.  Therefore they spend little time focused on organizational goals.  If the cleanup hitter becomes injured, thus hurting the team’s offensive strength, the pitching coach is affected because he needs to do everything possible to help build the team’s defensive posture, by utilizing his pitchers in such a way to allow fewer runs to be scored by the opponent.  But, he will not be focused on making organizational adjustments to fix the problem of a damaged offense.  The manager on the other hand, needs to look at his total resources and organization for the answer.  In fact, he may very well change individual assignments within the organization to achieve the organizational objectives.  For instance, he might move his strongest hitter currently on the bench to left field, his left fielder to third base, his third baseman to shortstop, and put his shortstop on the bench.  In doing this, he is clearly sub-optimizing each of his individuals in their defensive positions.  If this were not the case, he would have had each of them in those positions to begin with.  But the manager needs to optimize at the organizational level, and that sometimes calls for sub-optimization at the individual level.  A baseball manager also spends a significant portion of his time and energies on setting team and individual objectives, developing season and game strategies, implementing those strategies, and reviewing the results (in detail) of those strategies the next day.  In fact they often receive the “benefit” of the fans and sportswriters evaluation of those strategies!

I could go on for much longer describing the specific differences between leaders and managers, but that is not the purpose of this book.  However, it is important to recognize that there is a clear difference between the two and viewing them as the same can be a serious mistake.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

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