A good manager is a fungible commodity. You should be able to transplant them between different companies and, aside from minor operational changes, they will be able to adapt quite quickly to their new environment. I do appreciate that teams can benefit from having a leader that has direct experience in the field of work that their team is conducting but for the most part the role of ensuring that a team has an environment that is conducive to getting their work done is a skill that transcends any field. Unfortunately for most of us however the managers we labor under do not fall into my classification of good and whilst there are many causes for that it’s primarily one thing: they fail to identify their own weaknesses and manage them accordingly.
It appears to be a commonly held belief that if your boss doesn’t understand what you’re doing then you’re doomed to either struggle to get work done or never receive the recognition you deserve. I’m unfortunately going to have to echo this point as the majority of managers seem to arise primarily from one category I previously mentioned: those who rose from the ranks. Now inherently they are no worse than the other kind however the real world tendency is for us to promote those amongst us as a preference to bringing in someone from outside to lead. Whilst this does mean you have a leader with a good understanding of the issues at hand it also means that they usually lack the skills that make good managers fungible. Additionally they tend to be too involved in smaller issues that they perceive as critical, rather than forming strategic plans to address underlying issues.
There’s a saying that I can’t find a source for that states “Good managers are those who surround themselves with people smarter than them. Bad managers hire those who agree with everything they say”. Part of being a manager of a group of people is understanding that you don’t know everything and ensuring that the people under you have all the skills required in order to accomplish the task at hand. This is where many managers fall down as rising through the ranks to become the leader of a group of people can have the unfortunate effect of putting that person on the expert pedestal. Once their authority is officially cemented any notion that they weren’t the best at something quickly evaporates and you now have someone with power and a false sense of expertise. They will then tend to hire those that agree with their new found expertise rather than those that disagree with them. Whilst I’m sure none of the real life situations are this melodramatic the core principals have rung true in practically all of the workplaces I’ve graced over the years.
Ultimately this comes down to a problem of them failing to identify their own weaknesses and delegating to their employees who are stronger in those areas. Taking this to its logical end point you can see why a manager with a core set of skills is fungible between almost any field of work in the world as they should be able to quickly identify the expertise required and where their own experience falls down. Over time they will be able to learn the nuances of the work that their employees undertake and should be able to approach the same level of understanding that a manager who rose from the ranks had. Still for much of the working world is probably the less common of the two types of managers to encounter, simply because we’re still basing our entire management ideals on a model from the industrial revolution era.
The principals I’ve talked about in here can easily be applied to those of us who aren’t working in the world of management, especially if you have your eye on making a career there someday. You’d probably find that if you get a reputation for identify weaknesses, creating solutions and managing resources that your colleagues will be recommending you to be the next top dog. Whilst there are still many more things to making a good manager the core principal of knowing your limitations and remedying them is probably the most frequent idea that managers get wrong, much to the dismay of the people they’re managing.
I think I’ve written enough on management to get to the put up or shut up stage now, time for me to hire some underlings… 😉