Simply a Great Manager

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From my very first experience inside an office in Romania, it was clear to me that one of the most debilitating realities in the workplace here was a lack of managers who provided competent, inspirational leadership.

I don’t mean those one-of-a-kind managers for whom employees would forsake all self-interest and give everything to the company. I don’t even mean managers of pristine character and judgment who spend hours teaching and mentoring. There are very few of those in any country. No. Just a couple good bosses (or editors) for younger and lower-level employees to emulate would be sufficient.

My subsequent experiences in various offices here mostly served to confirm this impression. I again witnessed around me a sad lack of exemplary managers. Well, that’s not wholly true. There were many managers who provided examples. I did see a number of young employees emulate their bosses and (rather than learn from the shortcomings) begin to act with petulance, impetuousness, and in other ways that evidenced the insecurity and immaturity they were subject to.

Unfortunately, after this limited personal experience, scores of second-hand anecdotes, never-ending complaints from friends, generalizations from acquaintances, and various pieces of published journalistic evidence, I am left with the undeniable impression that there are woefully few examples here of senior managers who demonstrate, by example, how to conduct oneself well in the office and how to guide others with confidence and encouragement.

And, fairly or not, I have concluded the problem is indeed worse here than in the other countries I’ve worked where there were always at least some admirable managers in evidence to everyone.

I’m not sure of the reasons behind this, whether it is the outcome of some cultural differences or merely the continuing cycle of bad managers begetting new bad managers begetting new bad-to-be managers.

It’s especially sad because, in my experience, while it might be difficult to be a great manager, it is not difficult to be a good manager. And it’s certainly no mystery. Like learning to be a good parent, there is no shortage of books and experts on the topic. The guidance is all around.

So for all you managers out there – to anyone who has someone reporting to them or just sitting near them – I offer this short excerpt. Because every once in a while you read the thoughts of successful businesspeople who can give advice that is so basic and so obvious that you are struck by how simple a great workplace can be.

(From an interview in The New York Times of Ramon Nunez, chief executive of LiveHive, a software maker. It appeared September 6.)

On managing:
“I was about 27 when I started managing others. I made a lot of mistakes. One common characteristic of inexperienced managers is a lack of confidence, and that often translates into wanting to control. So you set rules that really don’t make people more effective or productive. What I’ve learned is that you have to figure out what needs to get done. What is the team’s mission? How do we accomplish that? You have to have some boundaries and some rules about how you operate as a team, but you let people excel the best way they can.”

On a company’s culture:
“To me, there are four significant principles for setting a culture. No. 1 is trust. You have to trust people to do what they need to do. If you can’t trust your team members, there’s something wrong. Either the team has to change or how you work needs to change.

“The second thing that’s very important is interdependence. That’s a euphemism for teamwork, but interdependence describes what teamwork really is – I rely on you and you rely on me.

“The third thing is integrity. That’s a set of values that keep people from going astray, and when they do you hold them accountable. The fourth thing is customer focus. If you’re not delivering value to your customer, you’re not going to survive over the long haul.”

So, articulating a well-defined mission, treating employees with respect, building an atmosphere of trust, encouraging teamwork, demanding and acting with integrity, and being in business to serve customers – why are these things still a mystery to too many managers?

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