November 14, 2005

Who is a Manager ? Lead, Follow or Get out of the way

Managerial effectiveness is a subject on which millions of words have been spoken and written about but there is sufficient scope to write a million more .. Here is my contribution to the evergrowing corpus !!

A manager makes decisions ...

If the decision turns out to be correct, he credits the team that has implemented his decisions. If the decision turns out to be incorrect, he takes the blame on his chin. Victory has a thousand fathers and there is no harm if that is the case, but defeat should not be an orphan. This inherent asymmetry between decisiveness and the consequences thereof is true not only in the field of corporate management but has a wider impact. In the armed forces or in the government, this reflects in the relationship between 'officers' and 'other ranks'. An officer takes decisions in the field and credits the team for success but takes the blame for disasters.

However this analogy with government agencies is correct only up to a point .. because

A manager is NOT an administrator ...

When he takes a decision or orders a specific action he should be in agreement with the decision and fully supportive of it. He cannot take shelter in the fact that the decision is imposed upon him by a superior manager and he is only implementing the decision. If he does so, then he vacates his high ground as a manger and, irrespective of his designation, joins the ranks of 'other ranks'. If he wishes to retain his position as a manager he should challenge and argue with every decision that is imposed on him and only when he agrees to a decision should he implement it. Perhaps this is why our stalwarts in the IAS would never make good managers.

A manager is a thoughtleader ...

The team should look up to him not because he holds a higher designation but because he is in some way superior to them. This could be technical superiority in the chosen field or superiority in the way he handles clients or superior in the way he spots and identifies patterns of the way ahead. I am told that Mr Azimji Premji, when he took over from his deceased father as the head of the nascent Wipro empire, was advised my many that he should relinquish management to more senior people who knew the family vegetable oil business better than he did. Fortunately for India, he did not but it just goes to show that even though he did not know software, he was not handicapped in leading his team ... simply because he saw the pattern that was emerging.

Being a thoughtleader is important because in the knowledge industry that is one of the very few personal attributes that command respect. Perhaps the only other attribute is ..

Personal Honesty ..

A manager must be personally honest in thought and deed. Being honest merely with Travel Expenses is not enough, the manager must be intellectually honest. He must not show favouritism towards any member of his team and when he showers praise ( or even rebukes ) he should not only be fair, but like the Caesar's wife, should be seen to be fair in thought and deed. Life, and a delivery project, is not a bed of roses. There will be lots of thorns and the way these thorns are distributed is what earns the loyalty of the team.

Taking decisions, owning decisions, being a thoughtleader and exhibiting personal honesty .. these are easy things to ask for but sometimes very difficult to deliver. There could be instances where the manager, because of his personal circumstances, cannot deliver on these fronts.

Well he can sink into helplessness, throw up his hands and give up. But in that case, he is not a manager ( or officer ) anymore. Irrespective of his designation he has moved 'down' to join the followers in the 'other ranks'.

The only advice for them is "Lead, follow, or get out of the way."

Thoughts put together for an address to young mangers in Calcutta


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