Most people have no idea what makes a good manager. This is why so many people complain about their managers and why so many managers do a poor job.

I used to work for a big company that had a TON of middle managers. They sat around all day making excel reports of revenue projections from our team of 10. Then they “rolled up” those reports to their manager who rolled them up to his, etc. etc. until 50 people had been involved in making a spreadsheet that was outdated and inaccurate the moment it was complete. Not long after i left that job I heard they had laid off a lot of middle managers. Predictably, absolutely nothing changed for the worse at the company without all of those people “managing” things.

The most popular misconception is that managers are good at managing if they are good at delegating activities and tasks. The next most popular misconception is that a manager is good at managing if they are good at “rallying the troops” or “inspiring” others or getting their team “fired up.”

The truth is that good managers are neither of these things. In fact, both “head delegator” (sp?) and “head cheerleader” sound like ridiculous wastes of time.

A good manager is a person that MANAGES to create an environment where those he/she manages can best do their job.

The literal misconception is that a “manager” manages people.
The literal reality is that a “manager” should manage the work environment and process on behalf of the people.

What does this mean? It means that a good manager removes distractions and general bullshit that keep Brilliant Engineer Ted from focusing all his energy on being a brilliant engineer. It means that a good manager deflects the needle-prick distractions that reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of his workers. So when Larry the HR Guy has to fill out another expense report instead of finishing the new comp plan, his manager has failed him.

“Wait, WHAT?” you say. You think I’ve just described the perfect manager as being – essentially – an administrative assistant. BINGO. The BEST manager is the one who handles all the crap that the worker would rather not do so that they can focus on what they are good at. The BEST manager is the one who uses their best skills and abilities to create a place where everyone else can use their best skills and abilities.

This misunderstaing is why there are so many bad managers. Most managers think that the people reporting to them work FOR them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The BEST managers work for the people reporting to them. They work to make sure the people “under” them can focus on their jobs. They make sure the coffee stays hot so the designer can keep working on the new presentation. They listen to angry customers complain on the phone for an hour so the salesperson can call the next customer and the next and the next. They make it so that the worker they are managing goes home and says, “I had a great day at work…I got a lot done and really applied myself” without ever realizing that the manager did 15 pain-in-the-ass tasks during the day on behalf of the worker.

The BEST managers are like a left tackle in football – they offer protection to their quarterback and make his life easier. They make it so the quarterback doesn’t even realize the right defensive end spent all afternoon trying to take his head off. The BEST managers are like the guy running the sound-board at a concert…no one really sees him back there but he makes the band sound better by twisting the dials and creating an environment for the music to be great. (*As a note, music is one of the places where “managers” are actually doing “management” work. Tour managers and road managers handle details and distractions so that the band can focus on putting on a great performance. They don’t boss the band around and delegate tasks to others; they do the grunt work and no one ever knows they are there*)

If you want to be a good manager, you need to recognize that you work FOR the workers and not the other way around. You need to be focused on making your workers jobs easier even if it means making your own more difficult. You have to understand that your most successful days will be when you feel like you have been dropped in a meat-grinder…but all your employees are getting a lot of good work done.

ANd if you want to be a crummy manager, well that isn’t that hard at all. Just do what you’ve seen other managers do and you’ll probably be on the right track.


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