Book Summary – Simply Managing (What Managers Do – and Can Do Better)
People celebrate the visionary, long-view leader, but too many leaders are detached from the day-to-day, hands-on work. Managing is where things get done in today’s environment where companies are “overled” and “undermanaged.”
Management and leadership are not separate spheres. The two skills work together in the larger realm of “communityship.” As a manager, don’t aspire to create followers; learn to nourish “communities of engagement” that support your firm’s work by fostering mutual respect. Management isn’t a science – its primary goal isn’t to assemble knowledge through research. And it isn’t a profession – it cannot be taught. The only way to learn to manage is to manage. Think of managing more as a “practice” that blends “art,” “craft” and “science.” When you draw on your ideas and insights, you create art. When you build on your experience, you utilize craft. When you analyze what you know, you rely on science. When you do all three, you manage.
“The manager can never be free to forget the work, never has the pleasure of knowing, even temporarily, that there is nothing left to do.”
Observing 29 successful managers in action makes it clear that managers don’t have to know all the answers, do all the work or make all the decisions. A manager’s highest goal is to “bring out the best in other people,” so they, too, can learn, decide and act.
“By the excessive promotion of leadership, we demote everyone else. We create clusters of followers who have to be driven to perform, instead of leveraging the natural propensity of people to cooperate in communities.”
Managing is not an orderly job and follows no explicit process. A manager’s pace is frenetic, and a manager’s day is fragmented. One study showed that foremen engage in a different activity every 48 seconds; another showed that half of a CEO’s activities last less than nine minutes. Interruptions fill a manager’s day, and management activities shift quickly from the routine to the important. Managing is a nonstop, high-energy role. To understand this chaos systematically, frame it by conceptualizing that everything you do as a manager resides on one of three planes:
- The “information plane”– You communicate with your bosses and subordinates, and also with your peers in the firm and with outside stakeholders. You operate in the center of an hourglass: Information comes from you and toward you, in both directions, constantly. If you complain or get irritated by the thousand things that interrupt you daily, you waste a valuable resource. Pay attention to and honor interruptions; they bring information that might arrive in no other way. And as you prioritize and channel this information, you drive behavior. Even your schedule communicates, because concerns that get scheduled are the ones that get valued. All this communication stems from your “framing” – how you articulate purpose and define issues.
- The “people plane” – You can’t stop at merely driving employee behavior, because your formal power is quite limited. Your success depends on other people getting things done. That’s why leadership is an essential component of management. As a manager, you lead people, teams and organizations. To lead people, don’t “empower” them – that only reinforces their subordinate position. Instead, “energize” them – summon and direct the energy they already possess. To lead teams, build cooperative groups and address conflicts within and among them. To lead an organization, shape its culture over time by tying the interests of the workforce to the needs of the company. The people plane also entails “linking” to those in other departments and in the outside world. It’s up to you to represent your unit’s interests through persuasion and networking.
- The “action plane” – This calls for “doing on the inside” and “dealing on the outside.” You might engage in hands-on work because you need information, because you want to show how it’s done or because you feel a good outcome is especially crucial. You might also be hands-on when responding to a crisis. When poison turned up in Tylenol capsules some years ago, Johnson & Johnson’s chief executive responded directly and decisively. As with the people plane, the action plane also involves engagement with the outside world – through contract negotiations, for example. Sometimes getting a deal done requires a manager’s credibility and hands-on involvement.
“Managing is a tapestry woven of the threads of reflection, analysis, worldliness, collaboration and proactiveness, all of it infused with personal energy and bonded by social integration.”
Personal Styles Matter
Managers’ styles differ widely. Some drive change and some push continuity. Some decide quickly; others are more deliberate. Success can manifest through a variety of personal styles. But observing managers in action suggests that three qualities in particular can deepen your impact: being “proactive,” avoiding a hierarchical view, and practicing a blend of art, craft and science. Being proactive means using your formal and informal authority to bring about a particular outcome. It may mean catalyzing change or shoring up stability. Abbas Gullet of the International Red Cross Federation faced the challenging task of managing refugee camps in Tanzania. He became proactive in maintaining stability. Alan Whelan, a sales manager for BT, a UK company, proactively worked to drive change at his firm, mostly by cajoling and finally convincing senior managers to adapt to transformations in the world of telecommunications.
“Management is as much about lateral relationships among colleagues and associates as it is about hierarchical relationships.”
Organizations are highly interactive networks. The obsolete traditional view, with the manager sitting atop the company hierarchy, no longer functions. “A manager on top of a network is out of it” and should be a part of it. Another, newer approach, with the manager at the “hub” of a circle, is also flawed because it draws all communication to the manager. Instead, think of the manager as moving through a “web,” operating throughout the organization – listening, affiliating, persuading and taking action. The web gives the manager the ability to connect any aspects of the organization to any other. It also prevents the manager from stagnating in a too-central position that allows others to bypass his or her influence.
“Managers are not just channels through which pass information and influence. They are also valves in these channels, who control what gets passed on and how.”
The best managers combine three styles, the three sides of a triangle: The first is art, which focuses on vision and ideas; the second is craft, which fosters engagement drawing on experience; and the third is science, which uses analysis based on data. Aim for the center of the triangle. Art and craft without science lead to “disorganized” management. Science and craft without art make it “dispirited.” And finally, science and art without craft bring “disconnected” management.
Managers must reconcile contradictions and competing imperatives:
- “The syndrome of superficiality” – How do you engage in thoughtful reflection amid the frantic pace of management? Carve complex issues into smaller decisions. Learn from the example of great athletes, who understand how to slow down time, even amid great pressure, so they can make the most effective, thoughtful move.
- “The dilemma of delegating” – Managers sometimes feel as if they know too much to be able to delegate. They figure it would take too much time to pass along their knowledge, which often consists of oral information they’ve acquired through informal channels. When they delegate, they end up frustrated, because they have to oversee the work or suffer discovering that the people to whom they delegated did not perform to their standards. To get around this, share information with a deputy as often as you can. Teach this deputy what you know and let the deputy deal with delegation. Then you only have to check in with a single subordinate to know how a delegated project is proceeding.
- “The clutch of confidence” – As a manager, exude confidence, but never arrogance. Sometimes you must display confidence even when you’re not sure of the path, so others won’t lose trust in you or confidence in themselves. Recruit a group of candid friends and advisers to help you during crises. Remain modest enough to listen to them.
- “The ambiguity of acting”– How do you move decisively in a nuanced environment full of uncertainty? Sometimes acting decisively leads to disaster, especially when you’re distant from the issue. Other times, hesitating to act creates a costly delay. No manual can teach you decision-making; all you need is good judgment. There’s a time to wait – though that has costs – and a time to act – though you may not know the consequences. Break the decision into “chunks” so you can act on one piece of the problem at a time, with space for feedback and reassessment, for waiting and for action, between the steps.
“Effective managing requires some blend of art, craft and science, whether in the person of the manager alone, or else in a management team that works together.”
Seven “Threads” of Effectiveness
Good management can’t be reduced to a series of easy steps. Instead, think of managing as a series of “threads” that create a “tapestry” – just as J.M. Lewis and other researchers identified in their book, No Single Thread: Psychological Health in Family Systems, discussing the threads that make up healthy families. Good managers weave seven strands together by being:
- “Energetic” – Maintaining your nonstop pace as a manager takes high energy. You need energy to navigate two management paradoxes: staying informed when your role keeps you away from the front lines and balancing change and stability.
- “Reflective” – Understanding what you know and what you don’t takes humility. Learn from experience; embrace trial and error. Make time for reflection, even amid the rush.
- “Analytic” – Rely on data but don’t make it your primary driver. Trust your judgment.
- “Worldly” – Learn to see things through the eyes of others – different cultures, different companies and different units within your own workplace.
- “Collaborative” – Don’t just direct others; engage them. Grow leaders companywide.
- “Proactive” – Drive change; don’t let it drive you. Nourish and encourage effective flow of change from all levels of the organization, not just the top.
- “Integrative” – Move seamlessly between thinking and doing while engaging others.
“Managers are not effective; matches are effective. There is no such thing as a good husband or wife, only a good couple. And so it is with managers and their units.”
Finding and Developing Good Managers
When hiring managers, examine candidates’ flaws as much as their strengths. Decision-makers too often focus on a single quality when selecting a manager – especially if it’s a quality the previous manager lacked. Learn the candidate’s flaws – they’ll come to light later anyway – and figure out if these flaws are compatible with the job.
“We find fragmentation in this work and much interruption…The significant activities seem to be interspersed with the mundane.”
When sizing up candidates for a managing job, don’t rely solely on the views of senior managers outside the unit. Give a voice to those who have been managed by the candidate. Former subordinates know the candidate best. Sometimes organizations turn to an outside candidate who brings a fresh perspective. But consider, too, the “outside insider” – someone who may have left the company because he or she was unhappy with some aspect of it – an aspect best improved by that candidate. This person blends an insider’s knowledge with an outsider’s fresh thinking.
“We hear a great deal about managers having to be global; it is far more important that they be worldly.”
Steer clear of one-size-fits-all measurements to determine how effective your managers are. Context is important. There are no effective managers or ineffective managers – only effective or ineffective matches. Be wary of “professional” managers who can purportedly manage in any job, any situation. Be sure the manager you designate is a good fit for the job. To judge a manager’s effectiveness, determine how well the unit he or she manages is doing and how much of a contribution this manager made it its success. Don’t rely solely on short-term measurements. Look instead at the manager’s long-term impact beyond the unit and beyond the firm.
“Strategies are not tablets carved on top of mountains…They can be developed on the ground by anyone who has the experience and capacity to see the general beyond the specifics.”
Prioritize developing your managers. Create professional training programs where managers can share insights with their peers in small groups and reflect on their own experiences. Create a plan for managers to bring what they learn back to the workplace so they can share insights with their colleagues, superiors and subordinates. Companies that develop sound future managers move beyond a focus on charismatic leadership toward building a culture of collaboration and mutual respect. Good managers provide direction and coordination. They don’t create mere followers; they foster engagement, freeing people to do their best work. They encourage collaboration around shared priorities. This moves the organization “beyond leadership to communityship.”
The job of managing is significantly one of information processing, especially through a great deal of listening, seeing and feeling, besides just talking.”
Whether you manage at a senior level or on the front lines doesn’t matter: You need not possess greatness – just clear-headedness. Be confident and aware of your limits and of the potential of others. To release their potential, don’t strive to be a leader who inspires. Instead, become a manager who engages.