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March 07, 2005

Things Great Managers Do

Marcus_buckingham_1As mentioned earlier, Marcus Buckingham has written an outstanding Harvard Business Review article outlining the traits of great managers. The article is a synopsis of his recently released book titled, The One Thing You Need to Know … and below is a scalpel/suture of my takeaways from the article.

However, I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE you to go beyond reading this article outtake and purchase the entire article online or buy the March issue of the Harvard Business Review at any number of offline retailers.

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Great managers play chess, not checkers
Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves.

Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.


Being a Manager is different than being a Leader
Great leaders discover what is universal and capitalize on it. Their job is to rally people toward a better future. Leaders can succeed in this only when they can cut through differences of race, sex, age, nationality, and personality and, using stories and celebrating heroes, tap into those very few needs we all share.

The job of a manager, meanwhile, is to turn one person’s particular talent into performance. Managers will succeed only when they can identify and deploy the differences among people, challenging each employee to excel in his or her own way. This doesn’t mean a leader can’t be a manager or vice versa. But to excel at one or both, you must be aware of the very different skills each role requires.

This doesn’t mean a leader can’t be a manager or vice versa. But to excel at one or both, you must be aware of the very different skills each role requires.


Great Managers capitalize on people’s unique abilities
All that said, the reason great managers focus on uniqueness isn’t just because it makes good business sense. They do it because they can’t help it.

Like Shelley and Keats, the nineteenth-century Romantic poets, great managers are fascinated with individuality for its own sake. Fine shadings of personality, though they may be invisible to some and frustrating to others, are crystal clear to and highly valued by great managers. They could no more ignore these subtleties than ignore their own needs and desires. Figuring out what makes people tick is simply in their nature.


Identifying a person’s strengths …
To identify a person’s strengths, first ask, “What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months?” Find out what the person was doing and why he enjoyed it so much.

Remember: A strength is not merely something you are good at. In fact, it might be something you aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something you find so intrinsically satisfying that you look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time. This question will prompt your employee to start thinking about his interests and abilities from this perspective.


Identifying a person’s weaknesses …
To identify a person’s weaknesses, just invert the question: “What was the worst day you’ve had at work in the past three months?” And then probe for details about what he was doing and why it grated on him so much.

As with a strength, a weakness is not merely something you are bad at (in fact, you might be quite competent at it). It is something that drains you of energy, an activity that you never look forward to doing and that when you are doing it, all you can think about is stopping.


Great Managers recognize great performance
The most powerful trigger by far is recognition, not money. If you’re not convinced of this, start ignoring one of your highly paid stars, and watch what happens.

Most managers are aware that employees respond well to recognition. Great managers refine and extend this insight. They realize that each employee plays to a slightly different audience.

To excel as a manager, you must be able to match the employee to the audience he values most. One employee’s audience might be his peers; the best way to praise him would be to stand him up in front of his coworkers and publicly celebrate his achievement. Another’s favorite audience might be you; the most powerful recognition would be a one-on-one conversation where you tell him quietly but vividly why he is such a valuable member of the team. Still another employee might define himself by his expertise; his most prized form of recognition would be some type of professional or technical award. Yet another might value feedback only from customers, in which case a picture of the employee with her best customer or a letter to her from the customer would be the best form of recognition.


Great Managers find ways to amplify a person’s style
Great managers don’t try to change a person’s style. They never try to push a knight to move in the same way as a bishop.

They know that their employees will differ in how they think, how they build relationships, how altruistic they are, how patient they can be, how much of an expert they need to be, how prepared they need to feel, what drives them, what challenges them, and what their goals are. These differences of trait and talent are like blood types: They cut across the superficial variations of race, sex, and age and capture the essential uniqueness of each individual.


Great Managing is about releasing not transforming
To excel at managing others, you must bring that insight to your actions and interactions. Always remember that great managing is about release, not transformation. It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.

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Comments

It was a very resourceful article and exact to the point

Great summary for the article. But I will take a leaf out of your book and go purchase the article.

More words of wisdom for me to digest.

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