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The perfect manager

20th May 2008
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Matthew Jennings offers some invaluable advice on how to strive towards becoming the best manager you can possibly be.

"Ultimately, the truly great managers are the ones who stop to think where they want to go and then have the shameless audacity to set out." Gerard Blair.

If we went to the shops and bought an identikit perfect manager, what attributes do you think they would have? Stop for a minute and have a think about this. What comes to mind?

Harvard Business School narrows down all the desired attributes to just one essential one - focus.

"The perfect manager is one who others want to emulate. Their behaviour and attitudes are copied by their colleagues, not always consciously."

If you can visualise what you want to achieve in management then you are half way there already. Gold medal winning athletes often imagine themselves standing on the winning podium listening to their national anthem and then start to work out what steps they needed to have taken to get them there.

For example, in 1896 the men's 100 metre final was won in a time of 12 seconds. A hundred years later in 1996, Donovan Bailey won it in 9.86 seconds, which would have also won most 100 metres races since. Therefore, for someone training now for the London Olympics in 2012 they would need to be looking at running a time of 9.85 seconds to stand the best chance of winning.

What are your goals in management? Make a list of everything you want to achieve in your current role, regardless of whether it is a stepping stone to somewhere else. Once you know where you are going you can start to plan your journey. It is vital that you enjoy the journey too or you will forget to enjoy the destination.

Try and get into the habit of enjoying everything you do. If you find a task particularly irksome then see if someone else in the team enjoys doing it and then train them accordingly. If no one likes doing this task then take it in turns to do it – with your turn first. There is always something in every task that is enjoyable. Try and practice looking for this enjoyable element.

Top tips

* What are the attributes of a perfect manager?
* Focus on what you are doing
* Visualise yourself as the perfect manager in the future and then think about the steps you took to get there
* What behaviours are demonstrated by the great leaders?
* Introduce yourself to potential mentors
* Choose your life values
* Fake it until you make it
* Do something now

The point is that if you know where you are going, you stand a better chance of getting there and you have told your subconscious self that you want to get there, so it can start to lend a hand.

Things to consider

The perfect manager is one who others want to emulate. Their behaviour and attitudes are copied by their colleagues, not always consciously. With this in mind it stands to reason that we can help ourselves a bit here. Instead of trying to become a truly great manager all on your own, think about some great managers and leaders you already know. If you have ever truly respected a colleague then try to identify what it is specifically about them that you admired.

We can also look at famous public figures that have shown great leadership. What are their values? What are their beliefs? How do they demonstrate these in their daily behaviour? For example, what makes Nelson Mandela a great leader? Is it his compassion? His integrity? His patience? How does he demonstrate these attributes?

Kathi Siefert of Kimberly Clark Medical is ranked as the third most powerful business woman in the world. In 2001 she was ranked No. 1 Business Woman in America. How did she get to this position? What are her values and beliefs? One way to find out is to ask her, or read her biography.

Finding a mentor

A fantastic way of learning how to be a great manager is to ask a manager you respect to act as your mentor. Start to put yourself in positions where you are likely to meet inspirational leaders. Attend lectures and seminars, join committees and steering groups and introduce yourself to people you admire. When you meet someone you want to learn from, ask them if they will be your mentor. This may take the form of an occasional coffee, or maybe a phone call every now and then. It may involve you working with them. You won't know until you talk with them.

"A fantastic way of learning how to be a great manager is to ask a manager you respect to act as your mentor."

Spend some time working out your own values and then start behaving like someone who has these values as their essence. For example, if you value integrity, courage and wisdom then look at situations with these values in mind and start to demonstrate them. Ask yourself, 'what would someone with integrity, wisdom and courage do in this situation?' Then go ahead and do it yourself.

There is an expression, 'fake it till you make it', which I personally don’t like, but it applies well here – apart from you won't be faking it, because you will be acting in accordance with your true values, which are your drivers in life. It may feel as if you are faking it at first, but the more you adopt these behaviours as your own the more natural they will become. If you always act with integrity, courage and wisdom then pretty soon you will be known as a person who represents these admirable qualities.

Try making up your own identikit perfect manager and then start the journey to become that person. If you know where you are going and why you want to go there, all you need to do is go ahead and do something about it.

Is there such a thing as a perfect manager? If there is, could it be you?

There is an old Irish proverb that goes like this: 'Talking about it never saved the harvest'. Set your goals and then do something towards achieving them. Do it now. There are two things that separate the truly great from the others. The first is to focus on your vision and the second is to take the first steps towards achieving it.

Further Reading:

  • Blair, G (2006) 'Starting To Manage - The Essential skills', Chartwell Press
  • Covey, S (1989) '7 Habits of Highly Effective People', Franklin Covey
  • Harvard Business Review (2003) 'Habits of Highly Effective Managers', Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Kathi Siefert Biography (2004)

    Matthew Jennings is training director of Spark Training

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