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What is an Effective Manager?

To be effective, managers must do two things well: (1) achieve their targets and (2) make the best possible use of all resources. The second criterion is complex and needs to be examined closely.

First of all, we need to recognize that management has a vital role to play. Since the early 1980s, management has had a bad image. Managers are described as controlling, lacking in creativity and task oriented. Conversely, leaders are seen as path breaking, inspiring and people oriented.

We need to dispel this image by recognizing how it arose. When the Japanese started to be successful in the West during the 1970s, there was a great hue and cry to replace managers with leaders. Previously, we talked about management styles such as people oriented versus task oriented, but now leadership was handed the good guy styles and management was condemned to the bad guy role.

Management Upgraded

We need to restore management to its rightful place alongside leadership as a driver of organizational success. Management can be defined as achieving goals in a way that makes best use of all resources. Management is not just the territory of managers. Employees manage themselves when they take an MBA to develop their career or invest money for their retirement. They also need to manage their time and talent to get their work done effectively.

Management is value neutral: even criminals can manage well. It is also style neutral. Effective managers tailor their style to the situation. Managers have more resources than other employees but the process of management is the same. It’s about getting things done in a way that adds the most value or achieves results in the most efficient manner. Managers, not just leaders, need to be good with people.

Getting the Most Out of Yourself

Management, like investment, is about achieving the best return on money, people, time, or other resources. Effective managers challenge themselves regularly with questions such as the following:

  • What is the best use of my time today?
  • How can I add the most value in this situation?
  • What is a better way of getting this task done?
  • How can I make better use of the people reporting to me?
  • How can I achieve greater profitability?
  • How can I get greater mileage out of my partners?
  • How can I make better use of my boss’s talent and time?
  • What 20% of my efforts are yielding 80% of my output?

It is easy to get caught up in busy-work without analyzing whether we are getting the best return on our time, experience and talent. The urgent takes priority over the important, so we aren’t as strategic about ourselves as we need to be. Challenging yourself to get a better return on your own talent, time and energy is about being strategic about yourself. Management is therefore a strategic activity.

We would regularly review our financial investments to get the best return on our money. Why not on all resources at our disposal? Even if you don't manage any people, you can think of your job along investment lines and strive to make best use of your own time, talent, experience and energy. You can be a good manager even if you don't manage any people.

Getting the Most Out of Others

The key to managing employees effectively can be simply stated as helping them meet their needs in a way that also meets the organization’s. This way of putting it zeroes in on the needs of individual employees and how to align them with business goals.

Questions to assess effectiveness in getting the most out of people include:

  • What potential does this person have that is not fully realized?
  • Am I doing too much for employees, spoon-feeding them?
  • Am I challenging them to think for themselves as much as I could?
  • Am I doing enough to foster ownership in others?
  • Am I doing enough asking or am I mainly telling and selling?
  • Who can I expose this person to for development purposes?
  • What tasks would most develop this person?
  • How can I measure this person’s developmental improvements?
  • How well am I enabling these employees to manage if I weren’t here?

These questions should encourage managers to see themselves as catalysts, facilitators, enablers and developers of others. Too many managers want employees who are sufficiently competent and motivated that they only have to manage by exception, to jump on mistakes. Wanting to focus on “more interesting” work indicates a preference to DO things rather than wanting to manage. 

The popular book, First, Break all the Rules, says that effective managers make sure that employees know what is expected of them. But this advice is too simplistic for all employees. It is appropriate for new employees and those whose work is not very knowledge-intensive. The risk of telling employees clearly what is expected of them is that they might limit themselves to these guidelines, thus not take much initiative, not think for themselves and not feel enough ownership for their work.

More experienced employees, especially those in knowledge-intensive roles, should be encouraged to think like independent businesses, thus constantly searching for other ways of adding value for their internal customers, especially their manager. Getting employees to think for themselves is essential if they are to manage successfully in your absence or to feel a comparable degree of ownership to that which you feel.

The metaphor of the organization-as-person means that the “head” thinks and the “hands” do. Managers who do too much thinking for their employees will have nothing but “hands” who don’t do much thinking for themselves. If in doubt, always try asking employees: “What do you think?”

This article was published in The Canadian Manager, Fall 2011.  

See alsoTwenty First Century Management, Mintzberg on Management and Leadership and Management Reinvented.

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