Effective Managers Do Things Differently

Eight Guiding Principles for Great Leadership

Over the last twenty years, we have had the opportunity to work with thousands of managers. Some of these talented people seem to have one success after another in their career. When we use the term success, we are talking about success in both the “hard” or profit side of the business as well as the “soft” side of the business. We have worked with other managers who never seem to accomplish the goals they set out to attain. Recently, we went through an exercise to isolate what it is that the successful managers and supervisors do differently, what makes them effective as leaders. Here’s what we found…eight guiding principles for great leadership.

  1. Develop a Positive Vision.
    Successful managers and supervisors see success long before it arrives. A great analogy that demonstrates this focus is walking across a tightrope. Successful managers visualize themselves walking to the other side. Managers who struggle usually have their focus on not falling off the rope. A second vision characteristic of successful managers is that their visions are usually “big,” filled with greatness. It is the greatness of the vision that helps create excitement and motivation in both the managers and their direct reports. The mind is a powerful organ and it will deliver what you focus on.

  2. Encourage People’s Best.
    Another salient characteristic of great managers and supervisors is they have a positive belief about people. Successful managers believe that people do want to make a significant contribution and difference in whatever they do. It has been fifty years since Theory X and Theory Y was uncovered by Douglas MacGregor, but the concept is still alive and well today. If you believe that people will make cost-effective decisions in the best interest of the organization, you are right. If you believe that people can handle increased responsibility, you are right. These managers are strong believers in the Pygmalion Effect or the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. This may sound like fairy-tale talk, but successful managers and supervisors recognize the impact of self-fulfillment. They have the ability to coach, counsel, and develop people to live up to their full potential.

  3. Value Other’s Contributions.
    Successful managers and supervisors truly value the contributions of the people they work with and support. When we interview employees who work for this type of supervisor, they will tell you how they feel valued. Based on the feedback from the manager, these employees feel “special” and know they really do make a difference. This is a sharp contrast to the people who work for other managers where they describe feeling like a “replaceable commodity.” Somehow, poor performing managers convey an attitude that as long as “someone” fulfills the specific function, it does not matter “who” does the job. Successful managers know that one thing that creates motivation is a feeling of appreciation. Feeling valued helps to develop additional energy and increased motivation.

  4. Maintain High Expectations
    One of the characteristics successful managers and supervisors have is that motivated people enjoy working for them. Another characteristic is that they usually create and maintain very high expectations for their staff. We feel the very best about our performance when we have had to work hard to achieve our results. If the assignment is easy, we do not feel the same enthusiasm and pride. Another way to look at this is to understand that mediocre expectations will breed mediocre results. Mediocre results do not generate a highly motivated workforce.

  5. Exhibit Aim Framework
    There are two frameworks from which managers and supervisors can view life. You can tell which framework they operate from by listening to the questions they ask. “Blame Frame” managers ask these three questions: (1) What went wrong?, (2) Who is to blame?, and (3) Who needs to be punished? “Aim Frame” managers ask a different set of questions. They ask: (1) Where do we want to be? and (2) How do we get there? These two questions generate a totally different focus of energy in a group. The majority of people will throw their hats into the ring to help figure out where they want to be and what course of action will take them there!

  6. Support Extensive Communication
    Successful managers always seem to be communicating with “someone” they are supporting. We worked at a manufacturing plant in Indiana. The plant manager started his day with a brief 15-minute management meeting at the beginning of the first shift, and then he held a second brief meeting when the second shift came on. Although we spent three days working with the workforce, we only saw the manager in his office once. His entire day was spent out on the floor talking to operators and managers about how he could support them to resolve problems. What successful managers tell you is important about communication is that you have to really care about people to communicate with them. Think about it. In relationships where you don’t care about someone, you usually do not communicate. In relationships where you care a lot, you spend more time communicating with those individuals. This plant manager really cares about his people and their success–and it shows. He communicates extensively.

  7. Demonstrate Truthful Interactions
    This sounds so simple and yet it is very difficult to carry out in real life. Every day hundreds of opportunities are present where it would be easier in the short run to hook it and give someone the slanted version. Successful managers realize that to build long-term relationships based on trust, you need to be fair and honest at all times. In fact, successful managers and supervisors realize that the times when they gain the most by being fair and honest is when it costs them something to be fair and honest. A plant manager recently shared with us his decision regarding giving all his employees a monthly productivity bonus. The manager stated that, technically, the bonus should not have been provided because the quota was not met. When he analyzed why the quota was not met, he determined that one day the power in the plant went out for four hours. On another day, a machine went down and was inoperable for an entire two shifts. Both of these problems were beyond the control of the employees. Although paying the bonus impacted the profitability of the plant, this manager stated, “It was my only choice; I felt it was the fair thing to do.” He was fair and honest even if it did cost him something.

  8. Overuse Polite Phrases
    It may sound funny to read this point in a management blog, but here is another separation between successful and unsuccessful managers. Unsuccessful managers and supervisors do not seem to find the time to use the simple phrases our parents taught us… “Hello,” “Good-bye,” “Please,” and “Thank you.” I was in a manager’s office when his secretary brought him a cup of coffee. She placed it on his desk and he did not say a word. I felt both uneasy and embarrassed. I wished I had asked for a cup of coffee so I could have thanked her for both of us. Why don’t some managers use the “polite” words? Because they have a deep-seated belief that whatever the employees do is simply a part of the job and acknowledgment is not needed. If someone gave you a gift, would you say “Thank you”? I believe the majority of us would. We need to view what others do for us as a gift. Without others willingly following you, you will never be a leader. The words are simple, polite, and work wonders at building followership.

How many of the eight principles for great leadership can you say you practice on a daily basis? Remember, like any growth, you cannot do much about what you did yesterday. But, by starting to practice these points, you can make a difference even today.

(2) Comments

  1. Although I am not a CEO of a business ( I am retired), I have several leadership positions:
    President of the Taunton Art Association (45 years existence), Principal of the Sunday School
    or Religious Education Program (I was principal for 3 years in an elementary school) and
    Chairperson of the Board of Trustees (BCAN) and By Law Committee. The most difficult
    group thus far is the Taunton Art Association. I find the section on Blame and Aim Frame
    Managers helpful. Although I have sent “Why Employees Resist Change” to the board members which total approx. 25. The main comment I hear from the “Executive Board” is
    “We always did it that way!” These are substantially new viewpoints to the Boards. I think
    it will “save” the organizations, primarily because of the re-writing or updating of the By Laws
    from 20-25 years ago to a more current “crystal clear” objectives. Thanks for your assistance.
    I will share this with the Boards.

    1. Jack, “We always did it that way” is a very common phrase. I’m glad that you’ve found value in our articles and I hope it helps the board in accomplishing it’s goals. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. PBS

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