Doing some research I came across a Harvard Business Review article from 1977 by Wickham Skinner and W. Earl Sasser, “Managers with impact: versatile and inconsistent.” One of the topics Skinner and Sasser discussed are patterns of behavior characteristic of less effective managers. Their observations still ring true:
· accepting conventional company wisdom without question; example, “we always promote from within”
· acting too slowly when changes are needed now
· tolerating subordinates who are ineffective, hinting at improvements needed instead of taking decisive action
· not challenging the way things are done, “the way we have always done it”
· not handling priorities
· not taking calculated risks, lack of “boldness, nerve, and self-confidence”
· not asking for help or advice when needed
· not recognizing their own weaknesses
A pretty good instrument to measure the effectiveness of managers could be made from this list. Let me address one area: handling priorities.
We live in workplaces where increasingly we have to do more with less. Technologies sometimes increase workload where one might think workload should decrease. Organizations downsize but the work remains. Is it any wonder that in this environment our days are filled with the busywork of staying afloat?
As a young manager I found my days fully occupied with solving problems, making decisions, communicating, and so forth. But one evening I was reading Peter Drucker’s Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices and I realized I was not doing my job. Nobody noticed and probably no one would ever notice – but I was not thinking about where I wanted to lead my part of the organization. The next day when I came to work, I asked my secretary to hold all calls unless from the top guy (and it was a guy in those days). I spent the day in my office letting the busywork pileup while I drank coffee, Dr. Peppers, and thought about what we were really about. I came up with direction, a vision of where I wanted us to go, and how we might get there. At our next meeting I bounced the ideas off my teams and they agreed. Over the next year we focused more on effective, meaningful training. With better skill sets came more success at our primary mission. Together we made an impact.
I had not been handling my real priorities, leading and visioning. It was hard to find time at first and only got harder as I climbed the ladder. When it was impossible to take a day during my work week, I made it a Saturday. I recall after one Saturday, and subsequent divisional conversations, I presented our plan to my boss. He liked it but was amazed, “How on earth did you find time to do this?” If you understand your priorities, you make time -- at work and in life.