What makes a great manager
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What makes a great manager


by Gerard M Blair

The first steps to becoming a really great manager are simply common sense; but common sense is not very common. This article suggests some common-sense ideas on the subject of great management.

The major problem when you start to manage is that you do not actually think about management issues because you do not recognize them. Put simply, things normally go wrong not because you are stupid but only because you have never thought about it. Management is about pausing to ask yourself the right questions so that your common sense can provide the answers.

When you gain managerial responsibility, your first option is the easy option: do what is expected of you. You are new at the job, so people will understand. You can learn (slowly) by your mistakes and probably you will try to devote as much time as possible to the rest of your work (which is what your were good at anyway). Those extra little „management“ problems are just common sense, so try to deal with them when they come up.

Your second option is far more exciting: find an empty telephone box, put on a cape and bright-red underpants, and become a SuperManager.

When you become a manager, you gain control over your own work; not all of it, but some of it. You can change things. You can do things differently. You actually have the authority to make a huge impact upon the way in which your staff work. You can shape your own work environment.

In a large company, your options may be limited by the existing corporate culture – and my advice to you is to act like a crab: face directly into the main thrust of corporate policy, and make changes sideways. You do not want to fight the system, but rather to work better within it. In a small company, your options are possibly much wider (since custom is often less rigid) and the impact that you and your team has upon the company’s success is proportionately much greater. Thus once you start working well, this will be quickly recognized and nothing gains faster approval than success. But wherever you work, do not be put off by the surprise colleagues will show when you first get serious about managing well.


The idea of starting alone, however, may be daunting to you; you may not see yourself as a David against the Goliath of other peoples’ (low) expectations. The bad news is that you will meet resistance to change. Your salvation lies in convincing your team (who are most effected) that what you are doing can only do them good, and in convincing everyone else that it can do them no harm. The good news is that soon others might follow you.

There is precedent for this. For instance, when a British firm called Unipart wanted to introduce Japanese methods (Honda’s to be precise) into their Oxford plan (The Economist – 11th April 1992 – page 89) they sent a small team to Japan to learn what exactly this meant. On their return, they were mocked by their workmates who saw them as management pawns. So instead they were formed into their own team and sent to work in a corner of the plant where they applied their new knowledge in isolation. Slowly, but surely, their example (and missionary zeal) spread through the factory and changes followed. Now Unipart have opened a new factory and the general manger of the first factory attributes the success to „releasing talent already on the shop floor“. Of course one can always find case studies to support any management idea, but it does exemplify the potential of a small cell of dedicated zealots – led by you.


The manger of a small team has three major roles to play:


A Manager has to take a long-term view; indeed, the higher you rise, the further you will have to look. While a team member will be working towards known and established goals, the manager must look further ahead so that these goals are selected wisely. By thinking about the eventual consequences of different plans, the manager selects the optimal plan for the team and implements it. By taking account of the needs not only of the next project but the project after that, the manager ensures that work is not repeated nor problems tackled too late, and that the necessary resources are allocated and arranged.


The Manager has access to information and materials which the team needs. Often he/she has the authority or influence to acquire things which no one else in the team could. This role for the manager is important simply because no one else can do the job; there is some authority which the manager holds uniquely within the team, and the manager must exercise this to help the team to work.


The team needs security from the vagaries of less enlightened managers. In any company, there are short-term excitements which can deflect the work-force from the important issues. The manager should be there to guard against these and to protect the team. If a new project emerges which is to be given to your team, you are responsible for costing it (especially in terms of time) so that your team is not given an impossible deadline. If someone in your team brings forward a good plan, you must ensure that it receives a fair hearing and that your team knows and understands the outcome. If someone is in your team has a problem at work, you have to deal with it.

Version Two

That was rather formal. If you like formal, then you are happy. If you do not like formal then here is an
alternative answer, a manager should provide:


Vision in that the future must be seen and communicated to the team; Values in that the team needs a unifying code of practice which supports and enhances co-operation; Verve in that positive enthusiasm is the best way of making the work exciting and fun. If you do not think your work is exciting, then we have found a problem. A better word than Verve might be Chutzpah (except that it does not begin with a „V“) which means „shameless audacity“. Is that not refreshing? Inspiring even? A manager should dare to do what he/she has decided to do and to do it with confidence and pride.


One of the most cited characteristics of successful managers is that of vision. Of all the concepts in modern management, this is the one about which the most has been written. Of course different writters use it in different ways. One usage brings it to mean clairvoyance as in: „she had great vision in foreseeing the demise of that market“. This meaning is of no use to you since crystal balls are only validated by hindsight and this article is concerned with your future.

The meaning of vision which concerns you as a manager is: a vivid idea of what the future should be. This has nothing to do with prediction but everything to do with hope. It is a focus for the team’s activity, which provides sustained long-term motivation and which unites your team. A vision has to be something sufficiently exciting to bind your team with you in common purpose. This implies two things:

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