Being a real manager

There is the general and common thinking that being a manager is something everyone can do. It reminds me of one episode of Fawlty Towers where a certain Mrs. Richards asks for the manager (Click HERE to refresh your memory)….to end up being spoken too by the owner (Basil Fawlty) who is totally inept in dealing with a difficulty client.

The common pitfall in family business is that being the son or daughter of the owner automatically gives you all the skills necessary to be a manager. A common pitfall, in other businesses, is that just because someone has been working on a certain product or service and has acquired good technical skills at his/her job, qualifies that person to suddenly manage people…..and the list goes on….then people are surprised that persons put in managerial positions turn out to be a flop.

Add to all this, the latest twist. For many years, being a manager was associated with the five basic functions of planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling. These functions are fine when a business is operating in a stable environment. Yeah, a stable environment – a nice luxury. I am not just referring to the turbulence brought about by the pandemic but also before that. When do businesses ever operate in a stable environment?

In my opinion, the real basic, fundamental skills any manager needs to have are the following:-

Being Instructive: Helping others to extend their own frontiers of knowledge and learning through experimentation to develop new practices. With Artificial Intelligence on the horizon many jobs and tasks done by humans will be in the future done by machines. As Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group in China, said “Everything we teach should be different from machines. If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now we will be in trouble.” Learning, not knowledge, will power organisations into the future; and the central champion of learning should be the manager.

Be Expansive..not restrictive: Too many managers micromanage. They don’t delegate or let direct reports make decisions, and they needlessly monitor other people’s work. This tendency restricts employees’ ability to develop their thinking and decision making — exactly what is needed to help organisations remain competitive. Managers today need to draw out everyone’s best thinking. This means encouraging people to learn about competitors old and new and to think about the ways in which the marketplace is unfolding.

Be Inclusive: Too many managers believe they are smart enough to make all the decisions without the aid of anyone else. To them, the proverbial buck always stops at their desks. Yet, research clearly indicates that when facing new situations, the best managers create leadership circles or groups of peers from across the firm, to gain more perspective about problems and solutions. Managers need to be bringing a diverse set of thinking styles to bear on the challenges they face. Truly breakaway thinking gets its spark from many people exchanging their views, integrating their experiences and imagining different futures.

Push the shift from Repetitive to Innovative: Managers often encourage predictability. That way, the operation can be fully justifiable, one that runs the same way year in and out. The problem with this mode is it leads managers to focus only on what they know — on perpetuating the status quo — at the expense of what is possible. Organisations need managers to think much more about innovating beyond the status quo – and not just in the face of challenges. Just like what Idris Mootee, CEO of Idea Couture Inc. said in a great way, 

“When a company is expanding, when a manager starts saying ‘our firm is doing great’, – that’s when it’s time to start thinking on innovating. When companies are under the gun and things are falling apart, it is not hard to find compelling reasons to change. Companies need to learn that their successes should not distract them from innovation. The best time to innovate is all the time.”

Be a challenger…not a problem solver: Solving problems is never a substitute for growing a business. Many managers think that their number one job is “putting out fires,” fixing the problems that have naturally arisen from operating the business. That is totally wrong. Being a manager calls for finding better ways to operate the business — by challenging people to discover new and better ways to grow and by re-imagining the best of what’s been done before. This requires practicing more reflection — to understand what challenges to pursue and how one tends to think about and respond to those challenges.

Set an entrepreneur mindset: Many jobs devolve into trying to please one’s supervisor. The emphasis on customers, competitors, innovations, marketplace trends and organisational performance morphs too easily into what the manager wants done today — and how he or she wants it done. Anyone who has worked for “a boss” probably knows the feeling. The job of a manager must be to set an entrepreneur mindset in his teams. Being entrepreneurial is a mode of thinking, one that can help us see things we normally overlook and do things we normally avoid. Thinking like an entrepreneur simply means to expand your perception and increase your action — both of which are important for finding new gateways for development. Such a mindset would make organisations more future facing — more vibrant and alert.

Managers need to be people who love to learn and love to teach, who liberate and innovate, who include others in the process of thinking imaginatively and who challenge everyone around them to create a better business organisation. This will ensure that business organisations do more than simply update old ways of doing things with new technology and find ways to do entirely new things going forward. One last thing, the basis of all I said, is the root of all interpersonal skills. A manager needs to be able to communicate effectively. Without that, nothing of the above can ever be achieved.

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