What does a manager actually do?

 “The question, ‘Who ought to be boss?’ is like asking, ‘Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.” –  Henry Ford

Here I am. It’s Friday and I am having my afternoon cherry vanilla rooibos ice tea and daily intake of delicious cashew. A friend of mine just called me, very upset because he got negative feedback at work. He is newly promoted as a manager and he works twice as hard as he was working before. And his direct manager just told him that he is doing a crap job. He is frustrated now because he is working so hard and he feels unappreciated. I asked a few more questions and realized that my friend is in a very classic first time manager confusion. He doesn’t realize that his job as a manager is a different one.

First-time managers are really excited when they get promoted. It is a recognition of their achievements, performance, results. It is an opportunity. It’s probably what motivated them so far. But… now what? The fun part is that many first-time managers have no idea what being a manager actually means and what a manager actually does. Of course, one of the first challenges is realizing that as a manager your job is no longer to DO actual work, but to make sure your team is more effective with you than it was without you.

To my understanding, here a some of the main things that I think sum up the answer to the question “what does a manager actually do”:

1. Communicates vision and sets destination – Managers are not there for the details. The higher the position in the organizational chart, the bigger the picture. Managers are there for the big picture and they need to always keep the vision in mind. Where do we want to go? How do we get there? Are we there yet?

2. Breaks the vision into clear objectives and then measures progress – Make sure the vision is not abstract. Break it into smaller measurable actionable tasks and assign each bit to a team member. Make sure every team member understands the task given and evaluate the progress frequently. Set clear ways of measuring progress, set relevant KPIs and make sure you and your team keep your eyes on them.

3. Organizes work and people and makes sure he has the right people in the right places of the organization – Can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure you have all the necessary positions filled with the people who are passionate about that certain position and who have a drive for the job. Make sure the work flows are understood and let your people do the magic.

4. Builds a team, motivates and develops this team – A leader is as passionate about the team as he is about the job, product or company. You should dedicate up to 50% of your time to resolve conflicts in your team, harmonize people, build a real team. It is possible, trust me, even if at times things seem overwhelming and people seem to never get to see eye to eye. Remember! If your people keep blaming each other and seeing fault, remember to always ask yourself what it is that you are doing wrong. As a leader, it is always your fault ;-)) No kidding. See what you can do better and you will get there. When responsibilities and goals are clear, no member of your team will ever find fault with the others. By the way, find out what motivates your team and don’t forget to praise them constantly when they achieve the results needed.

5. A lot of buffering – Manage upwards and sideway. Check that your team or department is in sync with the exterior, the clients, other departments, the organization management. Makes sure the results of the department or company are in sync with other departments, the company, the market. You need to be buffering your team from the exterior, clients and the rest of the organization.

6. Sets the tone – As I think I keep repeating, it’s really fun to see that your team will copy unconsciously some of your actions and beliefts. They will see part of the reality through your eyes. That’s why it is important to keep a predictable tone, to have a predictable behavior, to ensure your team has a stable environment and knows what you expect. And, by the way, always be trustworthy. Believe me, your team will preffer a manager who gives them negative feedback when needed, rather than one who will always beat about the bush and run away from negative spots. Never avoid conflict. And by the way, I am not a fan of meetings, but regular kick-off and status meetings are great for communication if they are kept short and sweet.

7. Be open to feedback – Always be open to question your management. You don’t need people who tell you only what you want to hear. So take the time to communicate with your team, listen to their thoughts and see what you can do to help them. Yup, this is an important question you always need to be asking your team “What do you need me to help you with?”.

Any other things you think a manager does?

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