Make the leap from good to great

No one is born a skilled manager, but there’s a wealth of knowledge available to help you grow into one. In short, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel!

Did you, like me, blunder into management without any training or preparation? In my family, the word ‘management’ didn’t enter our conversation.

At school, we never learnt what psychology, motivation and management really meant.

And at college, with our attention focused on girls, rugby and beer, and just enough rote-learning to pass exams in physics, chemistry and the like, not once did we discuss how we would use our new-found knowledge in the real world.

My first job of scouting for citrus pests entitled me to an assistant to keep tally as I circled the trees with a magnifying glass and called out the numbers.

Never did I realise that I had been catapulted into becoming a ‘manager’, if only of one employee. As time went on, my team grew, and still I heard no word from anyone about how to do the job of a manager.

One day, pondering a problem with a member of my squad, it suddenly dawned on me: I’d been trained as a technician, and knew nothing about managing people.

I operated on intuition and instinct, making a mess of it, and I needed to do something about learning the basics of management.

In my search for help, I was staggered by what I found. Management has been studied and researched for millennia. Chinese general Sun Tzu, in the 6th century BCE, wrote The Art of War (still on the bookshelves) and recognised that understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy was the key to winning battles.

He was the world’s first exponent of the now-ubiquitous SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis!

In 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli outlined in The Prince (also still in print) how he tumbled to the realisation that people are motivated mainly by their self-interest, and don’t have to be threatened with beheading to do a job.

Adam Smith’s famous and oft-quoted Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, recognised the concept of ‘productivity’, and described how, by changing work flows, pin manufacturers increased productivity considerably.

But it was only in the late 19th century that ‘management’ became recognised for what it is: one of the most demanding professions on earth.

In 1946, Peter Drucker’s Concept of the Corporation recognised that ‘management’ was more than a boss giving orders and workers following robotically.

In his The Practice of Management, he described the epiphany of realising that ‘management’, above all else, was the lifeblood of organisational success.

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People outlines the classic management ‘maturity continuum’, with managers moving through stages of ‘dependency’, ‘independency’ and finally ‘interdependency’, all of which I recognised clearly in myself.

The authors of Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, identify 12 myths about successful business management. Collins’s Good to Great, which coined the phrase ‘first who, then what’, describes how he found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, great companies first get the right people on board, and then develop their strategy.

All of these exceptional books are still in print and readily accessible to aspiring managers. Of course, ‘book learning’ can’t give you all you need, but it’s certainly a start, and no naturally good manager, with aspirations to become a great one, can ignore the gems of wisdom contained in these and many other excellent books on management.

If you’re not there yet, make 2020 the year in which you reach your managerial peak of ‘interdependency’, and draw on the wisdom of some of history’s greatest minds for help.