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Setting the Managerial Bar

We've been thinking a lot about advice on being a good manager. Take a look at the shelf (shelves?) in your local bookstore or library, and you’re guaranteed to find a wide range of books on the topics of leadership, management, and succeeding as a leader. And boy are there a LOT of opinions about how to be a better, stronger, more effective, outstanding, even extreme leader. Or #girlboss. Or someone who dares to lead.

Looking back over the past few decades reveals several trends in the “how-to” leadership and management guides, such as those that draw from classical writings (Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince, even the Tao of Pooh) or encourage emulation of famously successful leaders (e.g., GE’s Jack Welch, Apple’s Steve Jobs, the members of Seal Team Six). Other books offer checklists of management skills or catchphrases that are easy to remember (“leaders eat last,” “servant leadership,” “getting to yes”). Over the past year, we’ve been told the “power of moments,” to “start with why,” and to embrace “primal” leadership.

There are useful insights to draw from each of these writings: treat people well; leverage strengths and minimize weaknesses; connect actions with goals; embrace opportunity and flexibility. However, too often the message in these books, implied or otherwise, is that the managers’ duty is to strive constantly for greatness – excellence even – or they fail their teams. We disagree with this sentiment, and the data appears to support our position. The Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report revealed that employee surveys suggest that more than a third of new employees quit within the first year of employment, and the cause for more than half of that turnover is tied directly to poor management.

Clearly, the managerial bar is too often very low, and it’s no wonder that many of us have correspondingly minimal expectations of our leaders. Why then do we continue to accept advice that tells us we must be excellent to be effective? That we must crack some complex code to assemble and nurture well-performing teams? Why isn’t “good” good enough?

We believe that good management boils down to a few core principles that, when followed consistently, provide a reliable blueprint for organizational success:

  • Respect those who populate the organization, regardless of role or opinion

  • Understand why the organization exists, its mission and goals, and their connection to daily operations

  • Maintain an open mind to how best to plan and execute work

Meeting the needs of your people and organization isn’t rocket science. For many, though, these are skills that require a bit of learning and practice but, like many endeavors, are absolutely worth the investment. Smart managers take advantage of the many resources available today, including those leadership and management books we mentioned earlier.

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