The most important person in terms of dramatically improving the U.S. economy is not the president of the United States, a U.S. senator, a congressman or congresswoman, or an economist. Each of those individuals is important, but none of them is the most important in terms of reviving our economy and generating long-term, sustainable success.
The most important person in making that happen is a business manager.
Business managers come with different titles in different industries and at different pay scales. Their labels include CEO, Vice-President, Director, Chief Global Marketing Officer, Chief Technology Officer, front-line manager, department head, purchasing manager, controller, and on and on. All of these people are managers. And all of them play THE critical role in improving our economy. It doesn’t matter whether a person is a manager of one McDonald’s restaurant or all of the McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.; a front-desk manager of a Courtyard by Marriott or the president of Marriott International; or the manager of a local retail store or the head of Macy’s.
The job is still the same, and it is both a necessary and noble job to do. It is necessary because without it we can’t get our economy going again. It is noble, which means possessing outstanding qualities, because managers are the ones who have to be capable of converting a collection of individual inputs into organizational value for customers that they will pay for.
Actually the most important person is tens of thousands of business managers across the U.S. 99.9% of these managers will never become known outside of their organizations and their families. The vast, vast majority of them will never become a multi-millionaire, be seen on CNN, or write a book. However, I guarantee you they are the most important individuals in moving our economy forward in the future.
Long ago I decided that my life’s work is to try to assist managers toward delivering great performances. A great management performance is one that converts available resources into extraordinary value that generates significant and sustainable improvement in results for customers, for the organization, and for the communities in which they operate.
A manager’s resources include his or her employees, facilities, equipment, time, and money. Time is the one fixed resource that all managers have. Obviously the tighter money becomes, the harder it is for a manager to obtain all of the other resources he or she wants to create value for other people. Consequently, the worse the economy gets, the more important the role of the manager becomes. It is this skill of converting resources, even limited resources, into greater value that ultimately moves an economy forward.
Keys to Great Management Performance
Over the past eleven years, I’ve landed on a variety of critical actions for managers to do to deliver a truly great management performance. What follows is not a complete list, but it is a good place to start.
Strengthen Your Foundation First
Get yourself right first. Whatever that means for you, I encourage you to do it. The vast majority of management blunders I’ve witnessed can be traced back to the manager being overly tired, stressed out, out of shape, feeling guilty, or some other personal breakdown. Examine your own physical, mental, social, emotional, moral, and financial situation. If you’re a spiritual person, then throw that in as well. Is your foundation where you want it to be? If not, what few practical things could you start with to improve your foundation? By making some progress and doing it over and over again, you will get yourself far closer to where you want your foundation to be. I’ve always been impressed by the ripple effect a manager has on other people when he or she strengthens the foundation of his or her life.
Know Why You Do What You Do
Remember that passion comes from purpose, not the other way around. Why do you do what you do? What is your purpose beyond the paycheck? Since you are unlikely to be paid a king’s ransom or to become famous as a manager, you need a purpose for your work that can sustain you through good and bad economic times.
Once you’re clear about your purpose for doing the work you do, then work with others to clarify the purpose of the organization or work group that you manage. Recently, I interviewed Roy Spence and Haley Rushing, authors of It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, which is the best book I’ve ever read on the importance of establishing an organizational purpose that resonates with both employees and customers. Click here to read my interview with Roy and Haley called A Conversation on Purpose: Insights on What Drives Extraordinary Organizational Performance: http://www.thecoughlincompany.com/conversation_on_purpose.html
Take the Hardest Step in Business
The hardest step in business is to step back and think. Really think through the desired outcomes, the various paths to make those outcomes a reality, the planned activities necessary to stick to the path you’ve chosen, and so on. It is actually much easier to press forward with action than to step back and think through the ramifications.
Here is a real-life story of two senior-level executives in a major corporation that I’ll call Hare and Tortoise. Hare was a driver-driver. If he had an idea, he would push it into action throughout the organization immediately. Tortoise’s approach was to pose a desired outcome in the form of a question, gather input, consider the alternatives, and then guide the group to deliver on a clear action plan using a collaborative approach.
Hare was a rising star. He became famous throughout the organization for getting stuff done. Then one day employees and customers started leaving the organization. Every time Hare had an idea he would send his employees into motion immediately to implement it. It didn’t matter that many of the ideas had no connection to earlier ideas. Hare kept pushing new actions through the organization faster and faster and faster. More employees and customers left. Within a few years, the numbers were so dramatically down that Hare was let go.
Tortoise took over a few extremely poor-performing business units. Instead of rushing to make decisions, he scheduled time to think. He brought together a group of about 15 people to discuss where the business was at, where they wanted it to go, and how they could get there. Using a collaborative approach, the group steadily made improvements. After five consecutive years of great business performances, Tortoise was promoted to another underperforming business unit. Same pattern: thinking time, group time with a collaborative approach, five years of great results, and another promotion.
If you want to be a truly great manager, take the hardest step in business. Step back and think.
Manage Talent, Don’t Abandon It
Business talent is the ability to help create value for customers that they will want to pay for and that will help the organization achieve its desired goals. In the midst of all this letting go of employees that has happened over the past year, be sure you’re not saving short-term results only to ruin the long-term success of your business. Ultimately, you have to have talent in order to create more value for your customers. You’re not going to make it all by yourself. Be sure to keep as much of the real business talent in your organization as you possibly can. That is the ultimate resource you will be converting into value for customers in the future.
Steward, Don’t Steal
Over the past 11 years I’ve written at least one 1,500 word article each month as well as three 70,000-word books. So I’m up to something like 400,000 words on management effectiveness. But if I had to narrow my advice on how to be a great manager down to three words, they would be: steward, don’t steal.
In the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, stewardship means “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.” In a nutshell, that’s the job of a business manager. Think of your main job as stewarding resources in ways that will enrich them and create more value for customers. The greatest managers I’ve ever witnessed embraced this concept of stewardship, applied it skillfully, and always worked to improve at it. A magnificent new book on the idea of being a great steward is Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life by John Bogle. I encourage you to buy this book and really study it carefully. It is a beautiful explanation of old-time values delivered by a person who has truly lived them.
Of course, you want to, and you should, be paid a reasonable fee for guiding these resources to better results. However, this is where the tricky part comes in. What is a reasonable fee for your efforts and how should you get that fee? There are two ways to go about it: earn them or steal them. Stealing is on the other end of the management effectiveness spectrum from stewardship. Stealing can come in a variety of forms of which some are legal and some are illegal. You can simply take what is not yours, or you can take what is available to you for the taking. The former is obviously stealing, and the latter is where you have to decide on what you think is the right thing to do. I encourage you to ask yourself, “Am I being a good steward, or am I simply taking as much from the organization as I possibly can?” Stealing is not always crystal clear, and many times you will have to decide for yourself whether you’re acting as a steward or a thief. If your goal is to be a long-term great manager, I encourage you to stay on the side of stewardship every time.
My father passed away last week. He was truly a great and humble person. He and Mom taught me a great deal about the concept of stewardship. They guided everything they had to help each of their six kids to do as well as we could do in whatever we were trying to do at that given moment. To me, they were absolutely perfect examples of being great stewards. They never stole the credit, the glory, or the riches from another person. They carefully and responsibly managed the resources that were entrusted to them to raise children who hopefully are delivering strong value to other people.
I haven’t met every manager on the planet, but of the ones I’ve met I’ve never seen anyone be a perfect manager on day one. The very best managers I’ve ever seen simply started on the road as a manager, and then worked to get better each day. Here’s an interesting quote from a new book called, Genius 101: Creators, Leaders, and Prodigies by Keith Simonton: “Geniuses are those who have the intelligence, enthusiasm, and endurance to acquire the needed expertise in a broadly valued domain of achievement and who then make contributions to that field that are considered by peers to be both original and highly exemplary.”
I’m not a big fan of the word “genius,” but I do think that definition applies to great managers. They always had the ability to become great managers, they had the passion to stay the course long enough to hone their craft as managers, and they applied their skills in ways that made an exemplary difference for their customers and organizations.
You may or may not become famous or fabulously wealthy as a business manager, but always remember that you perform the critically important role in making our economy strong and successful both over the short term and the long term.
Dan Coughlin is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, and author of ACCELERATE: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum. Dan’s clients include Coca-Cola, Abbott, Toyota, Boeing, Marriott, McDonald’s, AT&T, YPO, and Vistage International. He speaks on leadership, branding, sales, and innovation. His newest book released in June 2009, The Management 500: A High-Octane Formula for Business Success, which is about practical management lessons from the history of professional auto racing, is now available wherever books are sold. Visit Dan at www.thecoughlincompany.com.