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Great Managers: Skills & Attributes They Possess

By Steve Bareham, GMNET Editor

As a manager, would you describe yourself as planner, a provider, a protector, or all three? If not, perhaps it’s something to think about, says Gerard Blair, University of Edinburgh. Blair believes that these roles, performed well, are what make great managers, people who do the right things instead of focusing slavishly on doing things right.

Planner: In this role, managers strive constantly to clarify the long-term view, the vision that organizations should work toward. And, it isn’t enough for you to know that vision, every person working with you should know what it is, how you intend to get there, and precisely how their efforts contribute. If you want to be the leading club in your region in five years, but your staff doesn’t “see” how their roles fit, it’s unlikely your organization will get there.

Blair says communicating your plan (your vision) “…is not simply a case of painting it in large red letters across your office wall (although, as a stunt, this actually might be quite effective), but rather bringing the whole team to perceive your vision and to begin to share it with you.” Your staff has to believe in your vision as strongly as you do, and it’s your job to figure out ways to make them want to do this.

As planner, you also have to accurately anticipate actions and outcomes—cause and effect—and after doing so, you have to communicate an action plan that staff will support with their efforts. Smart managers congratulate themselves only briefly on successes, before looking down the road to see what needs to be done next to maintain competitive advantage. The only constant is change and the best managers learn to like challenges.

Provider: One of the most capable managers I’ve ever known said his primary function was to eliminate barriers that prevented the staff within our Association from doing the work that our executive board dictated needed to be done. He took this role very seriously. Great managers access information and materials that their teams need. In essence, you are in a support role so others can do their work efficiently and effectively. There is no greater waste of productivity than having people who can’t produce because they lack resources, material, training, or motivation. In such environments, people will talk for hours amongst themselves about why they can’t perform, and guess who gets the blame while the work isn’t getting done?

Protector: Your staff needs protection from distractions thrown up by the world and by the counter productive influences of less capable managers. Above all, be on the lookout for micro-managers. As the aphorism goes, you can tell someone how to do something, or you ask them to do it and then trust them to use their own ideas and ingenuity. What the less enlightened fail to realize is that both states can’t co-exist. And for those who choose the first option, and when the task isn’t done right, who’s to blame?

When people work time on task and focused for seven hours per day with the tools and knowledge they need, they do remarkable things. But the world and less enlightened people can and will suck energy and direction from your human resources every day if you let them. When they do, your organization loses momentum. You must search out debilitating forces and protect your people from them. If something new and complex emerges, it’s your job to figure out the difficulties, to create a workable implementation schedule, and to make sure your team doesn’t experience frustration from lack of knowledge, lack of time, or lack of resources.

As protector, if someone in your organization has a good idea, you help them bring it to fruition, and you give them credit. Similarly, if someone has a life or work problem, you empathize, and help them solve it, so they maintain their self esteem. You help prevent and overcome the bad, and you share in the good.

Blair notes that in an ideal world, “...where managers are wise, information is unambiguous and always available…. Unfortunately, managers are mortals, information is seldom complete and always inaccurate (or too much to assimilate), and the unexpected always arrives inconveniently. The situation is never seen in black and white but merely in a fog of various shades of grey.”

This is all true. Managing well is hard, and the reality is that most challenges don’t have one "right" answer. The trick is to find "an" answer that will work better than all others identified. So, to planner, provider, and protector, we should add “questioner” to the traits of great managers. In the end, it’s the process of asking good questions (questions are the engines of thinking) that determines managerial success (or not). In the absence of the right question, the answer is out of the question.

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