Posted by: Joe Hoffman | May 20, 2008

Job One for Managers

In my earlier post “The Art of the Hire”, I made brief mention of the “Managers Job One” and by inference, I noted that it is a key element that differentiates a manager from a leader. Whether you are the CEO of a two person micro-business or the CEO of a Fortune 100 this one facet of your job never changes!!!

The number one job of a manager, the highest order behavior, is that you are to do everything possible to clear the decks and grease the skids so that your staff/employees job can be done easier. Removing all obstacles requires that you set clear goals, stay out of their way, don’t micro-manage, make sure they have the tools, training and processes needed. If you are responsive to their needs and listen to your people, they will tell you what needs doing and how to accomplish it. This is the most highly leveraged position to manage from and from which you can move heaven and earth.

Accomplishing this simple task of clearing the decks, has a more difficult aspect though. You really have to know yourself and sometimes that means hanging your ego up at the door. I could ramble on about IQ and EQ and lots of other psycho-babble but unless you are able to understand yourself and understand how you are perceived by others, peers and sub-ordinates alike, you, your-self, are going to remain one of the obstacles.

Why do I think this is so important? A short personal history.

I moved into the “Management Chain” very early in my career and had the good fortune to be adopted by some wonderful mentors over the years, people who could cut through all the jargon, obfuscation and blather and get right to the core of things. Large companies, such as the one I was working with, spent a lot of money training and educating it mangers. But it was typical industrial training, application, do’s, don’ts, and flavor of the month management practices. The two things that you hardly ever got was the underlying theory or the opportunity to really practice what was taught over an extended period with a coach.

Changing behavior is difficult for almost everyone. Why do you think professional athletes spend so much time and money on coaches? A coach provides positive reinforcement, acts as an impartial observer and is empowered to provide negative critique of performance. Further a good coach will have a sound knowledge of the appropriate underlying theories of behavior and can provide the student with a basis for future self-feedback. A sound theory, just like a vision or mission statement allows one to test potential actions against a model to determine if it is an appropriate course of action.

My mentors and coaches came with all kinds of backgrounds, with their advanced education predominately from Hard Knocks U. For many concurrent years, I also had one of the brightest and well educated (Psychology) HR professionals I have ever known. The outcome of this dual track was that I was taught a whole range of “things that work and why” and “things that are stupid and why”. I was also taught that when you didn’t have a “thing that works” to apply and didn’t know what to do, do something, anything, as long as it wasn’t one of the “things that are stupid”. If it works out, thats great, add it to the list. If it doesn’t work out, add it to the other list and don’t do it again. In either case both you and the organization learned something. All human progress ultimately comes from experimentation.

There is a corollary to the above that a good manager needs to observe: Never ever punish someone for trying something that didn’t work out. Unless the course of action they chose was to ignore the problem, a cardinal sin for a manager. (That is not the same thing as doing nothing.)

As I noted, this is part of the knowledge I gained from some great mentors over the years in this case, Vince Kennedy, Pete Brennan and Lou Brigando (the HR guy). Much of the dialog took place in some venerable New York City landmarks designed for the education and edification of the young: The Lions Head, Bruno’s Pen and Pencil, Minetta’s, Jilly’s, the White Horse Tavern, Fraunces’ and a few Blarney Stones. These were places where you never knew who would show up and share a pint or two, and no one cared who you were or what you did for a living. (There were times that the secret service guys might pay a bit more attention though.)



  1. […] staff quickly understood that I wasn’t looking over anyone’s shoulder.  I was there to do a managers number one job:  find out what is getting in their way to performing at their best and fixing it.  The payback […]

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