Two incidents this week – Lunch with a former manager, and one of my employees resigning – got me thinking about what makes a great manager. I’d like to be a great manager some day. I work towards that goal primarily by trying to emulate great managers in my past.
Two of these stand out above all others, and I always compare myself against them, and usually fall short. But I think I’m learning.
The first of these was Lee Todd. He wasn’t my direct manager, but was one layer removed from me. However, everybody knew that Lee cared about us as people. That didn’t mean that he was a push-over. He was a hard worker, and expected no less of anybody else. But he also understood that family came before work, and never once questioned decisions that were made to put family ahead of business. And more than once, he was known to scold people who were working unnecessarily long hours. He taught me the principle that as long as the job is getting done, you should get out of folks’ way and let them do it their way, in their time. If an employee isn’t actually *directly* interacting with the customer, then the time when they choose to do the job isn’t terribly important, if the work is getting done.
When Lee sold DataBeam to IBM in 1998, he rewarded each of us for our contributions that made it possible for him to do that. He taught me that, on the one hand, there’s no limit to what you can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit, and, on the other hand, you should go out of you way to give credit where it’s due. Grasping credit for yourself just builds resentment, and doesn’t actually get you any closer to the goal. The secret here is that the more you hand out credit, the more people will remember your role in it all.
The other of these managers was Paul Dupree, the director of IS at Asbury College. Once again, Paul wasn’t my direct manger. And, indeed, I can say an awful lot of positive things about Don, who was my direct manager, much as I can say great things about Robert, who was my direct manager under Dr. Todd.
Paul taught me a lot about delegation. You hire people who know more than you about something, and you trust them to do what they’re good at. You stay out of their way, as long as they understand that it’s their job to communicate everything that you need to know.
Paul is very intentional in everything he does, thinking through what needs to be done, how he believes it needs to be done, and what the consequences are of doing it. Or, at least, that’s my impression of him. This is something I haven’t yet learned all the way. I have trouble thinking stuff through to that consequences part. I’m getting there, I think, but business as chess game is still something of a mystery to me. I have trouble keeping the entire big picture in mind when making the small decisions.
Of course, I have been *hugely* blessed in my job as manager by having a staff who are self-motivated, competent, and dedicated to getting the job done, and getting it done with perfection. So I know when I give them a task, it’s completely safe to forget about it until the moment that they come back and say that it’s done. Not everyone has employees that require so little hand-holding. While I’d like to think that this is all about my ability to hire the right people, I know it’s not so much that as the assistance I got from certain people in the hiring process.
So, this week, one of my employees resigned. It’s a big blow. He’s not been there very long, and in the time he’s been there, he’s made great strides for us technically. He’s also a rarity in tech workers – folks actually like him. He’s respectful in interactions with non-technical people. He speaks tech and non-tech, and can act as interpreter. And he, too, gets the job done.
I’ve asked him, on his way out, to give some thought to what I do well, and what I do not so well, as a manager. I want to improve as a manger, so that some day someone will look back at their time working with me and have benefited professionally and personally from the process. Most days, I feel it’s all I can do to get through the day, much less set a great example of leadership for my team.
I’ve also had other managers, who I won’t name, who have taught me a lot about how not to manage. Mangers who put their personal aggrandizement – whether that was political or financial – ahead of any notion of doing good for their customers. Managers who just wanted to lay low, avoid attention, and collect their paycheck. Managers who actively undermined everyone around them – both above, below, and horizontally – in order to climb to the top.
Oh, and in closing, I really should mention Homer. Homer was one of the owners at a company I recently worked for. He was killed when Comair 5191 crashed leaving Lexington in 2006. Homer always had a kind word, and understood, as a father, that my daughter was more important than my work, and that when I had to choose between the two, I wouldn’t hesitate. When I had to leave work before everyone else, he alone seemed to understand that I was arriving at 6 so that I could leave at 4 to be on time to pick her up, and encouraged me to do this. And he did the same thing when it was a choice between work and his family. Homer was a good man – something not to be taken lightly.
I figure if I can be some of the things that these three men embodied, I’ll be doing pretty good.