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Managers are important too

After recent thoughts about leadership – just when I thought it was all sorted out in my mind – a buddy, @KerriAnne, made the point that some great leaders are truly dreadful managers. And she’s right, very rarely do we see the combination of a great leader and a great manager in the one person.  Often it is a leader and second in command who work together to provide both.

So the next question for me to consider is:

What does a manager do?

There’s lots of theory around management – going all the way back to the days of Machiavelli, Adam Smith, Frank Winslow Taylor, the Gilbreths (of Cheaper by the Dozen fame) or Max Weber and beyond.

But the most important thing about management is that it directs the actions of groups towards common goals. All great armies in the world have had good management.

That is because good management is about the creation of a cohesive group that enables individuals to put aside differing ideas, agendas and motivations to work together towards achieving group goals. Further, quite often, the group will not have had input into defining the goals that they have been asked to achieve.

Management is not about the moment of inspiration so much as the daily slog of getting things done.  It can often be about seemingly boring stuff, like ensuring that all necessary resources are in place when needed.  Management is about keeping the team focused and capable to achieve the mission over the entire duration no matter what. Management is about knowing the skills and potential of team members, even when they might not know it themselves.  It is about drawing out better performances from people than they ever suspected they could deliver. It’s also about helping people to build mastery of tasks and then moving on to new tasks so that they continually develop and grow professionally.

Thus putting aside all the theory, management is about people & getting them to do things they might not want to do. Sometimes a leader can achieve this. But usually when things fall apart it is not a problem with leadership, rather it is often a problem of logistics. Thus ensuring that people have the right resources to achieve the mission is a key role for the manager.

But in the past the need to coordinate activities across distant operations and with poor communications technologies meant that command and control techniques were essential tools. The military are probably the best exponents of this method of management.

The key to successful command and control management is communication (there’s a nice short discussion here) – which relies upon decent computing resources and reasonable access to intelligence. And that is why the military tend to refer to C4I these days – or Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and (military) Intelligence.

However, the communications technologies that we now have available to us in everyday life & in business mean that management techniques need to evolve to encompass them. Perhaps the ways of managing that made sense in the days of telegraph and radio no longer make sense in the days of social networking, converged mobile devices and the internet?

For me the great challenge of contemporary management is filtering out the noise so that relevant messages can get through and people can collaborate effectively to deliver results.

Communications without intelligence is noise; intelligence without communications is irrelevant.
Gen. Alfred. M. Gray, USMC

Over the years many of us have suffered, working under managers who are bullies. It’s time we stopped accepting the bullies way of doing things – there is some great stuff on this over at Bob Sutton’s blog on this topic.

1 thought on “Managers are important too”

  1. good post – all too often there is so much focus on leadership – but we need managers and they need to be given respect for the role they perform – all too often the glory is given to the leader and the offsider just overlooked

    a lot of my current role has been more leadership – my team of focused dedicated forensic engineering professionals tended to self manage themselves – they didn’t want me micromanaging them – in the end they were telling me when they were going to run a knowledge cafe & invite me along

    so it was a lot of leading & engaging the team to see possibilities of what they could work towards and achieve

    my new role is going to be more a line management role – paraprofessional technicians & tradespersons – but who do more self managing than they did 20 years ago
    – so it’s time to dust off some of those management book from the bottom shelf – I may even take a peak at The Requisite Organization again

    however I will continue to lead several communities of practice – and our sitewide ISO 9001 quality management function – so it’s a bit of tweaking the balance

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