We often don’t realise just how young a science ‘management’ is. While people have been managing businesses for hundreds of years, it’s only recently, towards the end of the 19th century, that it has been properly understood and recognised as a special skill. The first tertiary-level course in management was offered at a US university in 1881. The first comprehensive theories of management appeared around 1920, and Harvard Business School established the MBA degree in 1921.
Things speeded up in 1946, with Peter Drucker’s first book, Concept of the Corporation. Using General Motors as an example, it was the first-ever book on ‘management’ as we understand it today. Previously, it was believed that the boss gave the orders and everyone else simply obeyed; Drucker realised it was much more complex than this.
In The Practice of Management (1955), he argued that management was the lifeblood of an organisation. In recent years, some truly inspirational books have taken the profession of management to new heights. These include In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman, The Seven Habits of Effective People by Steven Covey, and Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.
All of these are essential reading for anyone who has aspirations of being a great manager. If you haven’t read them, get started. But what are the traits, characteristics, abilities and skills that make truly ‘great’ managers? There are millions of ‘good’ managers working diligently in their organisations, striving to do things better. What does it take to rise above the crowd? Here is my list:
All great success is achieved by a team, and no one ever built a strong team without trust. Inherently suspicious people who hand out trust grudgingly never make great managers.
Warmth and empathy
Good managers are warm people with a sincere interest in the members of their team, often asking about them and their family with complete sincerity.
Self-discipline and balance
Their first priority is to protect their own health, so they exercise regularly and eat correctly. Their second priority is family time. Business only comes third.
This includes both verbal and written communication. Everyone knows exactly what is expected of them. Good managers are also active listeners, paying close attention, seldom interrupting, and often taking notes while listening.
A sense of humour
No manager will ever become great if they cannot see the funny side of things.
Great managers have entrepreneurial flair, always seeking new opportunities.
They are never moody, temperamental or morose.
Great managers remain loyal to team members who deliver results.
Great managers have a well-developed idea of where they’re taking the business. They discuss it, debate it, modify it and fine-tune it with the help of their colleagues, and communicate it clearly and regularly to all employees.
They have no ego, sense of self-importance or need for status. Never arrogant, they know that they don’t have all the answers, and are completely comfortable with this.
Generosity of spirit
No mean, miserly person ever achieved managerial greatness. In business, they will always be tough on costs and wastage, but on a personal level they are generous with their time and money.
Great managers are people of seemingly boundless energy, able to put in extremely long hours when needed.
While never fraternising with staff, they are not private people and often share aspects of their personal and family life.
When the going gets tough, they remain calm and composed – and never, ever lose their tempers.
They are never reckless, but always decisive when adequately informed. They are also prepared to make a decision without every last detail being known.
A focus on issues
Great managers seldom, if ever, discuss people. Their focus is entirely on the issues and problems.
In-depth knowledge of their industry is always a characteristic of great managers. They are, however, aware of their own weaknesses and cover for these by employing people to fill their gaps.
Quite a list, isn’t it? But truly great managers do have all these attributes.
I fail at many and am working on them, but at this late stage in my life have little chance of ever being a great manager!
What about you?
This article was originally published in the 21 February 2014 issue of Farmers Weekly.