Ask any businessman which is more important, their product or how it’s sold, and you’re likely to get a long explanation on why product takes the cake any day of the week. They are not wrong. You don’t have a business if there was nothing to sell.
And that’s only a tiny fraction of the total number of vendors out there. Being outcompeted and cash-flow problems are the main reasons cited by companies that fail in annot survive their first few years.
Management can be defined as “the art of getting things done through the efforts of other people.” While management is both art and science, we have to identify and develop the skills essential to better managing your and others’ behaviours where organizations are concerned.
In one form or another, managing has become one of the world’s most common jobs, and yet we make demands on managers that are nearly impossible to meet.
One reason for the scarcity of managerial greatness is that in educating and training managers, we focus too much on technical proficiency and too little on character. The management sciences—statistics, data analysis, productivity, financial controls, service delivery—are things we can almost take for granted these days. They are subjects we know how to teach. But we’re still in the Dark Ages when it comes to teaching people how to behave like great managers—somehow instilling in them capacities such as courage and integrity that can’t be taught. Perhaps as a consequence, we’ve developed a tendency to downplay the importance of the human element in managing. Managers are not responsible for other people’s happiness, we say. The workplace isn’t a nursery school. We’ve got market share and growth and profits to worry about, and anyway, power is too useful and entertaining to dribble away on relationships—we’ve got our own nests to feather. But the only people who become great managers are the ones who understand in their guts that managing is not merely a series of mechanical tasks but a set of human interactions.
Managing is not a series of mechanical tasks but a set of human interactions.
Another characteristic of great managers is integrity. All managers believe they behave with integrity, but in practice, many have trouble with the concept. Some think integrity is the same thing as secretiveness or blind loyalty. Others seem to believe it means consistency, even in a bad cause. Some confuse it with discretion and some with the opposite quality—bluntness—or with simply not telling lies. What integrity means in management is more ambitious and difficult than any of these. It means being responsible, of course, but it also means communicating clearly and consistently, being an honest broker, keeping promises, knowing oneself, and avoiding hidden agendas that hang other people out to dry. It comes very close to what we used to call honor, which in part means not telling lies to yourself.
Integrity in management means being responsible, communicating clearly, keeping promises, knowing oneself.
Of course, business integrity means accepting the business consequences of a company’s acts, but for great managers, it also means taking personal responsibility. The boss who accused Sells of disloyalty didn’t want to hear uncomfortable facts or opposing points of view. But when Sells took over his own division, he opened himself to criticism and argument. This is stressful work for managers, partly because it means serving two masters—one organizational, one moral—and partly because they’re not likely to get support for doing it, not even for doing it well. The rewards for great managers are more subtle.
Great managers serve two masters: one organizational, one moral.
Great management is a continual exercise in learning, education, and persuasion. Getting people to do what’s best—for customers, for the business, even for themselves—is often a struggle because it means getting people to understand and want to do what’s best, and that requires integrity, the willingness to empower others, courage, tenacity, and great teaching skills. Sometimes it also requires managers to learn some difficult lessons of their own.
Great management requires leaders to learn some difficult lessons of their own.
We’ve already noted that most of us demand something in a manager that is larger than life, and I suggest that in really great managers, we get it. Great managers are distinguished by something more than insight, integrity, leadership, and imagination, and that something more (part of it is tenacity; much of the rest is plain courage) bears a close resemblance to heroism.
Great management involves courage and tenacity. It closely resembles heroism.