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What the great managers do differently in management?

Last updated: 12 July, 2011
Hari T N 18:00 IST

How do the managers, who rise above the average, add value to an organisation?

I believe there are three things all great managers do differently:

Firstly, they invariably achieve a perfect balance between delegating and being hands-on in every situation. Achieving this fine balance reflects several underlying cognitive and execution capabilities on the part of a good manager.

First, it shows that the manager is capable of being hands-on and that she knows what her team is doing. Second, it shows that the manager can prioritise well and understands that her real role is to add value by doing things that she is supposed to be doing and not by doing things that her team is supposed to be doing.

She will step in to help the team (or a team member) if there is a crisis or a particularly challenging portion of work, deep diving only to help the team come out of the crisis or get over the hump and begin cruising again. She will then step up quickly to do what she is supposed to be doing. Average managers, on the other hand, take pride in being too hands-on and/or often have an incorrect understanding of what and how to delegate.

When they delegate, they frequently (a) do not clearly communicate what is expected, (b) do not have the rigor to periodically review whether things are on track, or (c) are unable to customise the extent of delegation based on who they are delegating to.

Great leaders also nurture insightful conversations. Insightful conversations are those that often result in “aha” moments. Great managers always have stories to tell or teachable points to share, they encourage their team to develop (and share/express) points of view on a wide range of issues.

They are aware of the power of insightful conversations and create an environment that nurtures such conversations. Through these conversations, they help create clarity and cut through the clutter that obfuscates and consumes time and attention. Writers on the art of management, however, underplay and underestimate the power of “simplicity.”

The ability to simplify is a tremendous strength and can provide an edge, but the tendency, more often than not, is to come up with complex programs and complex strategies, because that is much easier than compiling simple programmes and strategies. Simplifying calls for identifying the core issues and making the right approximations and assumptions.

There is a famous saying (attributed to Albert Einstein) that goes, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” The simplifiers are those who understand what counts in most situations, and design their solutions around these. Simplicity can be in process design, in thinking about cause and effect, and in establishing the key drivers in any given situation. Simplicity comes about only through clarity, and the clarity quotient of a team can be enhanced multifold by a manager who can nurture insightful conversations and, in the process, encourage everyone to develop teachable points of view.

The other good quality of a great leader is that they don’t hesitate to express themselves either by showing or telling. Great managers invariably express themselves.

They do this in several ways: (a) when they like something, they say so, and when they don’t like something, they say so too, and (b) they demonstrate it by walking the talk. Behaviours in a team are driven less by a discourse from the manager on what her beliefs are than by expressions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction when behaviours and actions are either in or out of line with those beliefs.

For instance, if a manager believes that good execution is critical, she could enhance the quality of execution in the team significantly (a) by pointing out instances of good and bad execution with inputs on what should have been done differently in cases of bad execution, and (b) by demonstrating good execution herself in every situation. Great managers can provide some hard feedback in the morning one day and follow it up that evening with a friendly chat over a cup of coffee.

Average managers, in contrast, do not feel confident expressing dissatisfaction when they do not like something; this is either because they do not have the skill to express dissatisfaction with a behaviour or outcome without this rubbing off on the overall relationship with the individual, or because they simply feel uncomfortable doing so.

Whatever the underlying reason, it does not engender high performance.
Behind these three broad behavioural patterns of great managers lie several underlying beliefs and capabilities; therefore, these behaviours cannot be seen or imitated in isolation.

(The writer is Managing Director and Global Head of Human Resources at Amba Research)

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