Who Is the Boss? Good Managers, Weak Managers, and All in between Need a Combination of Practical Assessments, Plus a Roster of Tough Questions, to Draw out the Best Possibilities for a Bright Future

By LaGuardia, Dorian | T&D, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Who Is the Boss? Good Managers, Weak Managers, and All in between Need a Combination of Practical Assessments, Plus a Roster of Tough Questions, to Draw out the Best Possibilities for a Bright Future


LaGuardia, Dorian, T&D


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Good managers get things done. They translate a leader's vision into action, take on the projects that everyone else thinks are impossible, and get the people around them to achieve more than they ever thought possible. Managers move us and our organizations forward.

Unfortunately, too many of us work with managers who don't seem able to do any of this. They stall and impede. They hide or yell. They can make us absolutely crazy.

How do these people get into their positions? More importantly, how do we take a manager with little noticeable management talent and get her to move us and our organization's forward? Assessing one's management capacity is the first step.

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Management is not a science

There are no iron-clad laws, rules, established theories, or paradigms that dominate the entire field of management. In its best form, management is a rough assembly of principles and best practices, tips and strategies, and lots of competing theories. This diversity sometimes makes management seem like a field consumed with fads, trends, and gurus. Yet, this diversity makes perfect sense because management is complex.

It is complex because, at its heart, management has to do with people--how diverse people work together to achieve common goals. People are, by nature, infinitely complex. Some of us work better in the mornings than in the afternoons. Many of us are influenced by our organizations' changing needs and the uncertainty this often brings. And all of us are influenced by what is happening in our lives outside of the workplace.

Good managers must understand not only the complexities of the actual work--how to move a project from inception to completion-but also people's shifting moods and attitudes and the swings these often create in individual and collective performance.

Management is also complex because of all the things that happen in our organizations that are just plain baffling. We have worked with, written about, and analyzed a couple hundred organizations in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. One might think that this diligence would result in some profound discovery of the key things that enable all managers to do great work. We've discovered a few, but we've discovered far more differences than similarities.

This is especially the case during times of extreme economic swings, the likes of which we've encountered over the last few years. Organizations are constantly transforming, and in the process, many things simply don't lend themselves to simple management models or theories. Organizations remain complex.

So if management is complex, then managers' skills, attitudes, and approaches must reflect this complexity. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. Good managers must be actively engaged with management--they must be thinking about it, playing with it, and discovering what works best for them and their organizations.

There are no top 10 lists that will make it easy or make it all fall into place. There are no tricks or short cuts. Yet, the best managers are the ones who are curious about management principles and best practices, tips and strategies, and all of those competing theories. They are eager to try new approaches and to develop a repertoire of skills and approaches that work in their specific contexts. The first step in creating this is a thorough management assessment.

Use various assessment tools in combination

Too often, management assessment focuses solely on one test or another that is designed to identify strengths and weaknesses, but that often treats the manager like a lab rat rather than a person. Instead, management assessment needs to use various standard tools in combination and, ideally, over time.

Perhaps more importantly, management assessment should be participatory--engaging the manager to see whether identified strengths and weaknesses are relevant to her work, how so, and what she can do to develop. …

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Who Is the Boss? Good Managers, Weak Managers, and All in between Need a Combination of Practical Assessments, Plus a Roster of Tough Questions, to Draw out the Best Possibilities for a Bright Future
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