Dan Maxwell
December 23, 2016

HBR has once more affirmed the value of managers – specifically, middle managers.  In a recent study on how “purpose” impacts results, they found that purpose in combination with clarity had the highest yield.  They also observed that management and professional roles (not CEO or front line) were key to superior financial performance.

That’s a lot of weight to place on the management role. It’s not an easy one – but a very important and productive one when done right.

My daughter was recently hired by a company who brought on a director to build out a branch of their business. The director brought in a manager he knew.  The manager reached a point where he needed assistance. So they hired my daughter as a team lead.  She recently told me how she had bi-weekly meetings with this manager.  This was very different from her experience in a previous company.  She related how, up to that point, each of her ideas had been implemented. It’s not hard to imagine her level of engagement.  The manager gets full credit – and that company gets the benefit – for making their employee a happy one.

My guess is that’s an unusual story. To be fair, management has its challenges.  In a recent blog on the realities every manager has to face, we illustrated a few of them.  Here they are in more personal form:

It’s not about the work you get to do, but helping others do their work.

What they get done is what matters, after all. You are the one who points them in the right direction and removes the barriers; but they do the work.  This takes insight into who they are and a clear idea of what you want them to do!  Hopefully there is a natural fit between the two.  But regardless, it’s not up to you to step in or cover for them.  Your job is to figure out how it works best for them to get it done themselves – and then stay out of the way.

By implication then …

It’s not the skills developed when you used to do it, but the abilities you honed for management.

For example:

  1. Making decisions,
  2. Developing and maintaining relationships, and
  3. Solving problems.

Such abilities go to the core of who we are.  Without a natural inclination to direct, relate, or consider the big picture, it’s very difficult to demonstrate the skill required to be successful in these areas.

Therefore …

It’s not about changing your direct reports (impossible); it’s about managing your own traits.

Many direct reports are not an ideal fit for their job. But they are who they are; we have to work with that.  High pressure tactics will increase results – but at a cost!  There’s also a loss in overlooking performance issues.  So it falls on Managers to figure out the best way to engage, motivate and develop their staff working with who they are.

This points to the most challenging reality: Managers also “come as they are.” Sometimes they have all the traits to naturally direct others, delegate detail and communicate.  But typically, there is more than one area where a “stretch” is required to effectively manage others.  For example, someone who always likes to plan their work will put off making decisions until they’re ready.  That’s a luxury managers can’t afford.  Since the buck stops with them, they must work to be more responsive to the requests coming their way – and make an extra effort to be more proactive.

In light of the above, it makes sense if Managers:

  1. Get to know the natural motivators of their staff;
  2. Make the effort to clearly define their role;
  3. Modify their behaviours to manage more effectively.

Note Managers: these are NOT easy or necessarily natural. They’re work – your work!  And again, largely matters of self-management.