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Read me like a book by starting at the beginning

Success In Spite Not Because

Date - 30 September 2016/ Category - Be A Conductor
be a conductor

Have you ever noticed how your manager is awful and yet the business makes money? Ok that’s not strictly true, there are some fantastic managers out there but in my life I’ve met very few.
Management and their courses, accreditation and certificates are a curse on good businesses. You need leaders and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Managers tend to be people who can’t. If you can’t do, then manage. Managers have all the experience in the world and absolutely no wisdom. They make a career out of profiting from their subordinates.

Take this as the point of view of someone who has a management degree. No text book can substitute for on the job lessons, and very few managers bother to learn any.

In my eyes there’s only one thing worse than a career manager, a consultant. At least a manager was on the coal face, even if they didn’t really do much, showing up does count.

The thing with great ideas is that they can carry with them a raft of dead weight and yet all too often make that dead weight look good in the process. The term manager has become polluted. Not all managers are the same and in my moment of disdain for the title I am in fact doing many good leaders a disservice by tarring them with the “manager” title.

To me a manager is a career figure head. Someone who can’t do someone’s job but decides to tell them how to do it anyway. A lot of leaders get called managers but they aren’t the same thing, it’s a shame that one word is used to describe both.

As humans we’re hardwired to praise the “manager” associated with a project even when they haven’t done anything to contribute.

Because businesses fail to employ perspective when looking at a project or their success they often misdiagnose the reasons for that success in the first place; assuming that good management had something to do with it.

The truth is, projects can and often do succeed in spite of the layer of management applied to them.

This means you often get the wrong people catapulted to the top of a business or at the very least you get the wrong people managing you.

Yet businesses survive, they even grow, so as a society we rejoice in the phenomenon that is the management class.

Often our desire to attribute success to management can cloud what’s really going on.

If you look at blackberry, the mobile phone company, their strategy started to go wrong in 2007.

In 2007 they started to sow the seeds of their own demise through poor management and yet it wasn’t until 2011 that anyone noticed.

Blackberry literally carried on succeeding in spite of the poor management, leading their field for three years despite their management making error after error. Because the world votes with its wallet, it saw an ever expanding revenue as a sure sign of good management, but if anyone had spoken to the employees they would have seen the truth.

Despite sealing their own fate during that period, if you had looked at the company in 2010 you would have thought its management were on point; but the truth is the brand and the business carried them through in spite of the decisions they were taking.

Blackberry is a large scale example so let me bring this one home for you.

Take a betting shop. The betting shop has a great cashier who knows all about the odds – a geek you could say.

Over 10 years this geek gets it right every time and in the end because of their prowess in making the odds they work their way to the top.

If we were to look at this geek we would probably say things like “he’s a genius”, “he’s got loads of experience” or “he’s very knowledgeable”. No one would object to them becoming a manager.
Yet what we forget is that we are valuing specialist knowledge (e.g. understanding of odds) over the ability to lead in the long term.

Once in place, the odds maker might be terrible with people, fail to understand the cash flow or regulatory requirements of such a business and frankly send the business down the toilet.

Yet for a few months or years the business would appear fine. In fact as is often the case it might improve in the short term all the while sowing the seeds of its demise.

People fear and revere specialist knowledge to the detriment of understanding what requirements a role might actually have. Someone’s ability or “track record” can often cloud a judgement.

What you end up with is a person in management who is good at one thing and contributes very little to anything else. Their failure to understand other aspect of the company can lead to confusion and discontent and yet because the business is successful they will be carried along by the false assumption their management is somehow responsible.

It’s why experience means nothing. All too often people will be given a job because their CV says they have been doing something for 20 years or worked on successful projects, but neither of these are guarantees or wisdom.

Of course the above example negates to mention that everyone starts off with some sort of specialist knowledge and once propelled into management can take the opportunity to learn how to manage.

Many people opt to do courses, but like I mentioned earlier I find these to be terrible sources of management wisdom. This is where the difference between a leader and a career manager comes into play. Whereas the manager will maintain their own specialist knowledge and make little effort to expand it, the leader will get stuck in and broaden their understanding of the business.
It’s a sad fact though that often the leader who gets stuck in can be perceived as an annoyance or threat by other managers. Their willingness to learn is often received as an intrusion and actively discouraged. It seems more often than not, managers believe it is better to send recruits on a course and have it say on paper they can manage than actually let them do the job in practice. You only have to see at management job adverts to realise how true that is.

More often than not I see businesses that succeed in spite of their management. Business up and down the country are usually held up by a minority of unimportant people that clean up the mess created by senior management.

When setting up a team then, it’s really important to research your recruits. Make sure you ask for references from the companies they left on bad terms with (if you employ perspective you will be able to sift through resentment and find the truth) and always dig into someone’s cv by finding people who worked for them or with them, not above them.

Ask them for examples of the problems they faced and how they solved them; a true leader will give credit to their peers and describe how they leveraged their peers like assets for the greater good. Leaders will use terms like we or they, managers will use terms like I.

If you know your stuff, challenge them. The best people will soak up the challenge, the worst will fall by the wayside pretty quickly.

Chapter Summary:

• Be a leader not a manager
• Managers make careers out of other people’s success
• Good business succeed in spite of management
• Be more interested in the opinions of those who work for someone than above someone when recruiting a leader.

Read our next blog post “There’s no such thing as accountability”.