Saturday, August 22, 2009

What have you LEARNED as a manager?

Time of a bit of reflection. What have I learned in a long career in management?

Here are ten things I’ve learned:

1 The best managers spend time with front line employees listening to their stories.

2 The best managers talk regularly to customers.

3 Gaining a management qualification does not necessarily mean you become a better manager.

4 Stretching the rules as far as you can – and even breaking them occasionally - gets things done.

5 Returning to the front line and doing real work is good for any manager.

6 Never believe what other people tell you about the folks you are managing – judge people yourself.

7 Trust employees – only a few people will stitch you up – most people want you to do a good job.

8 Make decisions – people respect you for doing something rather than doing nothing.

9 Ask for help – people will always offer help but they have to know you need it.

10 Never be afraid to say ’I don’t know’ – you are not expected to know the answer to everything.

What have you learned from your management experience?


Tom Asacker said...

Show, and patiently and meticulously explain, how your people's actions contribute to the success of the organization AND the improvement of life for everyone.

Rocky said...

The best thing I have learned is to have a genuine care and concern for the people you work with. Having this kind of relationship is priceless. It creates a much better environment, one that is more condusive to to a positive atmosphere where people are willing to roll up their seeves and accomplish great things as a team. When people are made to feel significant they are more willing to take risk. However, you cannot go beyond professional boundaries, just a real genuine care and concern for your people and their wellfare.

Gabriel Salcido said...

Hello Trevor!

One of the best lessons I've learned as a manager:
To keep in mind that everybody is human. It is a truth very easy to forget. But we also have to be aware that OTHERS might forget that too. :-)
Work is just one part of life, of our own lives and our subordinates'.

Dave Wheeler said...


Two things in particular. A leaders greatest capital is credibility with those they lead and asking "What do you think?" is the cornerstones on which to build a work environment based on trust, teamwork, and continuous improvement.

Phil S said...

How about "Be yourself, and not what you think a manager ought to be" If you know yourself you'll be far more knowledgeable that way.


Marilyn Jess said...

I never truly enjoyed the management jobs I held. In fact, others think I did a much better job than I ever thought I did.

What I learned? I'm a much better leader than a manager. The adage--a leader does the right things, and a manager does things right, still rings true to me.

Leaders see the big picture, and now I can easily spot leaders and recognize those who are managers and don't have an ounce of leadership in them.

To recognize where your strengths lie, and work those, is the biggest lesson I learned when I had the formal title of manager.

Trevor Gay said...

Tom – thanks for that. Communication is the key it seems. Getting buy in will never happen unless things are explained fully and the role each of us has in the overall plan.

Trevor Gay said...

Rocky – care and concern but not beyond professional boundaries. What great wisdom – thanks Amigo

Trevor Gay said...

Hello Gabriel – I agree with you 100%. The worst managers I’ve known see human beings as numbers or objects. The best managers recognise we are all human with the same glorious frailties.

Trevor Gay said...

Dave – your expression ‘What do you think?’ is one the best quotes I’ve ever heard for managers and leader. I know Tom Peters has used that quote but typical of Tom he credits you with it.

Trevor Gay said...

Phil – knowing one’s self is surely the best quality in all of us regardless of our rank or position - thanks for such simple guidance as always guvnor

Trevor Gay said...

Marilyn- your words agree similar to Phil’s in some ways. Knowing yourself and knowing your best strengths is the start of knowing your best position. The word manager is used loosely in many organisations. We are all managers in fact – managers of our time.

We are not all leaders though. I can tell that you are a leader from your wise words expressed often on this Blog.

Rosa Say said...

Like so many other things, management is a calling. I believe it is best to treat it that way, and as a verb you are passionate about continually learning within the doing of. Seems to me that the horror stories we will hear are because management and leadership are both still treated as jobs, titles, positions of power and increased compensation versus the calling to get work done in a beautiful and fulfilling way with other people.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Rosa - thanks for your comment.

You are right - work is work actually and we are all called to that whether we are managers or not.

I was often referred to as a ‘Manager’ on my job description when I worked in the National Health Service (NHS) but I always felt I was just another cog working, with others, for the good of the patient.

I’ve seen some ‘Managers’ who treat their title as an ego trip with some sort of superior status through that title whereas in reality most of us are just good foot soldiers – very proud of being foot soldiers and we do it very well.

Anonymous said...

Don't be afraid to step in front of a bus. Your team can probably do without you.

Trevor Gay said...

Anonymous - that's brilliant- and sooooooooo true!

Chelsea said...

Very interesting article, I agree that a qualification doesn't necessarily make you a better manager, good people skills however help.

Mark JF said...

I've learnt that I've still got an enormous amount of stuff to learn yet.

Dan Gunter said...

Possibly THE most valuable "management" lesson I ever learned was something that finally registered with me decades ago: we make management artificially complicated and technical (probably set in motion by b-schools, etc.) If you truly start with the heart and not the head, your odds of becoming a great LEADER/manager increase dramatically.

Mark JF said...

Dan - your point begs a definition of and distinction between leadership and management. I'd suggest this...

Leadership: 70% heart and 30% head (but with sound intuition and plenty of smarts to back it up). You've got to be inspirational but you need a compelling case to convince.

Management: 30% heart and 70% head (but with mucho empathy and plenty of discretion to back it up). You've got to be effective but you need to manage people sympathetically to get there.

Unknown said...

The best thing I have learned is complete honesty. Here is my agenda, I have no secret budgets or later deadlines. I need your input, will you help me?
And most important a sincere Thank You.

Ken D said...

1)Mean what you say & say what you meean
2)Make sure your actions match your words
3)Be visible around your organisation/dept but not overbearing
4)Don't expect others to do what you wouldn't do yourself
5)Do not undermine your senior players-always support them in public & chastise them in private
6)Find time to reflect & plan for the future
7)Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself
8)Management ain't black & white-even your biggest opponent will have some good points
9)Compromise on details to broker agreements but never compromise your beliefs & values
10)Your organisation/dept will be a reflection of you-staff pick up on your subliminal signals

Trevor Gay said...

Chelsea – great name – wrong football club though :-) – just joking.

I agree with you fully about people skills. I sign up to the Tom Peters view of leadership and management – if people aren’t the first item on the agenda every day you just don’t get it.

Trevor Gay said...

Mark – I love that – my Grandmother at almost 90 and just before she died was still telling me – as she had told me all my life – “I’m still learning” – A great view of life. If anyone thinks they’ve stopped learning then what’s the point?

Trevor Gay said...

Dan and Mark – I love the heart/head concept and Mark’s analysis of the percentages is superb – I can sign up to those percentages Mark based on my experience of being lead; being a leader; being a manager, and being managed. Situational leadership is a concept I explored in my leadership dissertation and sometimes a leader has to be more ‘head’ than heart whilst sometimes it is vice versa depending on the situation – common sense tells us that I guess but the best leaders just do it intuitively.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Frank – great to hear from you.

Sounds like being nice; good manners and most important sounds like simplicity – but I would say that wouldn’t I?

Why is it so hard for some people?

The basics are the new cutting edge :- )

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Ken and thanks for a great list. Unsurprisingly you will not find me disagreeing with my management mentor!

Thank you Sir as always for your wisdom and pragmatism!

JOHN O'LEARY said...

As a manager I learned to make myself redundant by helping my team manage themselves. As I see it, the job of a good manager - at least over time - is to do himself/herself out of a job - although he might provide some ongoing value as a sponsor or coach of that same team if they want it.

Scott Peters said...


Good post and great replies to the concept of learning as "something". The more I learn the less I know, and in keeping with the spirit of your Grandmother, we're always learning regardless of our position or age. I tend to agree with Marilyn that leaders make better followers and management has a tendency to be overblown from a title and power perspective.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat in meetings that emphasized "saying the right things" instead of "doing the right things". Anyone can be a manager (my opinion), but not everyone possesses the skills to be a leader. Our current President of the US is getting wrapped around the axle trying to figure out when to lead and when to manage.

As far as telling the difference between a manager and leader...a manager typically makes the most money in an organization, the leader is typically getting the work done.

At the last company I worked with, the management was deplorable. Always studying strategy, and using big words to describe their style of leadership...they were a joke. Our clients didn't care if we were "vertically integrated", they just wanted a good product at a fair price with a little service.

A leader can also be identified as the guy/gal who puts in their time and goes home, because they've found that the most reward comes from the fruits of their labor, not just labor.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks John - that is great advice to any manager who is arrogant enough to believe he/she is more important than they really are - and we have all met a few I'm sure my friend :-)

Keep on rockin'!

Trevor Gay said...

Thank Scott - I always enjoy hearing your views. You speak from a position of great experience and always say it as it really is.

Like you, I also met many managers who like to use long words - it makes them feel important. The strange thing is that front line employees see straight through bullshit very quickly and poor managers don’t even know that!

‘the most reward comes from the fruits of their labor, not just labor.’ – Thanks my friend- I love that!

JoAnn Corley said...

Love this post! Here's 2 more:
1. Work harder on yourself than you do on the people you lead.
2. No employee reward, recognition or incentive program can replace the respect and trust that need to be present between each employee and their boss.

As one who has conducted management training all over North America, I'm amazed at how many managers don't realize their relationship with the people they lead is one of the most essential elements to being effective and getting the outcomes they really want.

Trevor Gay said...

JoAnn – thanks so much – I love your additions and support them totally.

I share your dismay about the lack of comprehension among managers that the success of any manager is ONLY and ALWAYS about PEOPLE. End of story.

Maybe you and I and regular readers of Simplicity Blog (which I hope you will become) understand this rocket science concept and maybe we should be running the entire world of business … Joking of course …. Kind of anyway :- )

Krishna Kishore Koney ( కృష్ణ కిషోర్ కోనే ) said...

1. Telling Stories that connect and motivate employees/stakeholders.

2. Catch the team when they did RIGHT(and apreciate) not WRONG

3. Be part of the team. Not a lonely guy at the top who is only interested in numbers(dollars)

Trevor Gay said...

Kishore - clearly you and I went through the same school of management.

The common link in all three of your tips are they are all about people and that is what successful managers realise.

The guy (or gal) who sits in the office away from people making sure the numbers balance will never be successful or effective :-)

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