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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Winslow

The 5 Elements of a Great Manager

We all know of or have worked for managers who succeed in getting the work done, and directing the people who work for them. Yet somehow, they are not “the best” managers. They almost seem to get things done in spite of themselves. What separates these people from those who are on the fast track? Those managers whom everyone wants to work for, and always seem to be on top of things?

Here is what a good manager does (feel free to come up with your own cute acronym):

  1. Set the direction.

  2. Remove obstacles that the employee cannot remove for himself/herself.

  3. Provide the tools and education/training required for employees to do their job.

  4. Get out of the way and let the employee do their job.

  5. Follow up to ensure the direction was understood and is being followed.

It could be argued that there are many other things not on the list that are a key to good management. Communication, for example, is one of the most important things any manager does but it does not appear in the list. Why is that? The answer lies in the fact that it is implied and permeates every item in the list. Communication, or rather poor communication, is the source of about 98% of all problems in a business setting (and probably in personal situations as well!). As such, it must be a top priority in every aspect of management.

An entire chapter in many management books is devoted to delegation, but again, you don’t find it in my list. But is it there? Setting direction, following up, get out of the way, that sounds suspiciously like delegation to me. And so on. We will find that the list incorporates most, if not all, of the traditional skills found in other texts.

Those of you who are parents may look at the above list and recognize that it can also be applied to parenting. What is good parenting, but good management? With children who are still developing communication skills and life experiences, there is some fine tuning required, but the basic steps are the same.

Let’s take the example of a child just learning to ride a bike.

SET THE DIRECTION: You might first describe what the objective is…keep your balance, keep the handlebars straight, maintain your forward momentum by pedaling…etc.

REMOVE OBSTACLES: Next, you might make sure there is a nice level surface, with no obstacles to get in the way. Move the car out of the driveway and whatever else might get in the way of a beginning cyclist.

PROVIDE TOOLS AND TRAINING: You might then give the child a bike with training wheels, a helmet, and instruction on proper technique.

GET OUT OF THE WAY: Following the model, the next step is to let him go and see how he does. As long as things are going well, you stay out of the way and watch the child blossom.

FOLLOW UP: After a few tries while you observe, you give the budding cyclist a few tips to make him better the next time. You reinforce the directions you set forth the first time emphasizing those that he seems to be having the most trouble with, and then get out of the way again.

The simple example above can be applied over and over again either on a micro level as we saw with the child on a bike example, or on the macro level. Let’s take a look at a macro example of a CEO running a corporation.

SET DIRECTION: We’ve all heard of vision statements, mission statements, strategic plans, annual goals, etc. What are those but direction?

REMOVE OBSTACLES: CEO’s are constantly removing obstacles that their direct reports cannot remove for themselves. One example might be a Vice President who needs budget approval from the board to complete an initiative. The VP doesn’t normally have access to the board, so the CEO must convince the board to approve the budget. Another example might be if a direct report has an idea that will help the company in the long run, but will reduce dividends in the short run. The CEO must convince the stockholders that this idea is a good one and should be undertaken.

PROVIDE TOOLS AND TRAINING: As you get higher in an organization, this may seem less important, or even unnecessary. I would argue that it is equally important in all levels of the organization. A CEO must ensure that his direct reports have what they need to do their jobs and execute her direction. (How does a CEO do this without micro managing?) Like a military general, the battle cannot be fought without the proper weapons. The executive coaching industry is alive and well due to CEO’s realizing their direct reports may have a need for such a service.

GET OUT OF THE WAY: A CEO has to let his executives execute. The people turning the strategic plan into strategic action will work better if they are not micro-managed. A CEO can subtly and unintentionally sabotage his own plans by getting in the way. The mere presence (even if he doesn’t say a word) of a CEO in a meeting will always change the dynamics of that meeting, and not always for the better.

FOLLOW UP: Communication effectiveness can often be gauged by observing if the direction taken was the direction intended. Follow up by the CEO will help determine if the message was received loud and clear. In other instances, the CEO will need to follow up and be ready to change the direction if there are changing circumstances.

The two illustrations above are at opposite ends of the management spectrum. The model outlined is equally effective however in both situations, and is also effective in all situations in between.

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