Are you a good boss – or a great one? That's the question posed by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, writing for Harvard Business Review. They observe that most bosses reach a certain level of proficiency and stop there, leaving their potential unfulfilled.
Hill is a professor who works with "high potentials", MBAs and executives around the world, while Kent is an executive who has worked with managers at every level in both public and private sectors.
They say: "Organisations usually have a few great managers, some capable ones, a horde of mediocre ones, some poor ones, and some awful ones. The great majority of people we work with are well-intentioned, smart, accomplished individuals. Many progress and fulfil their ambitions. But too many derail and fail to live up to their potential."
Hill and Kent say this is because managers stop working on themselves.
Quite often a level of complacency exists. The authors explain: "Managers rarely ask themselves, 'How good am I?' and 'Do I need to be better?' unless they're shocked into it."
Although managers start new assignments receptive to change, once they have settled and the fear of failure subsides then complacency often sets in.
To make matters worse, the authors say organisations rarely put any pressure on experienced managers to improve and offer minimal support to those who would like to.
The onus is on short-term results, which are not a reliable measurement of management skill.
According to Hill and Kent, the problem lies with neither managerial complacency nor organisational failure, but rather a lack of understanding.
Hill and Lineback present three imperatives which encompass the essential activities managers need to carry out in order to influence others. They insist that, as a manager, mastering them is the "purpose of your journey".
The first imperative is: manage yourself. The authors explain: "Management begins with you, because who you are as a person, what you think and feel, the beliefs and values that drive your actions, and especially how you connect with others all matter to the people you must influence."
They add: "Every day those people examine every interaction with you, your every word and deed, to uncover your intentions. They ask themselves, 'Can I trust this person?' How hard they work, their level of personal commitment, their willingness to accept your influence, will depend in large part on the qualities they see in you. And their perceptions will determine the answer to this fundamental question every manager must ask: am I someone who can influence others productively?"
Good managers have the sufficient self-awareness and self-management to form the right kind of relationships with others. Productive influence doesn't come about through being liked or being feared, but from others trusting your competence and knowledge, and having belief in your good character and motives.
The second imperative is: manage your network. The authors explain: "Unfortunately, many managers deal with conflict by trying to avoid it. 'I hate company politics!' they say. 'Just let me do my job.' But effective managers know they cannot turn away."
Hill and Lineback insist that these effective managers establish and nurture a wide network of ongoing relationships, both giving and receiving support and influencing those over whom they have no formal authority.
The third imperative is: manage your team. According to Hill and Lineback, too many managers overlook the benefits of building a real team and managing their people as a group rather than individuals. They insist that individual behaviour can be influenced much more effectively through the group because humans are social creatures with a strong desire to fit in and be accepted by their peers.
Working as a real team, members hold themselves and one another jointly accountable, and both creativity and productivity are increased once you move beyond the mindset of a collection of individuals who are merely cooperating.
The authors advise: "A clear and compelling purpose, and concrete goals and plans based on that purpose, are critical. Without them no group will coalesce into a real team."
They add: "Team culture is equally important. Members need to know what’s required of them collectively and individually; what the team's values, norms, and standards are; how members are expected to work together (what kind of conflict is acceptable or unacceptable, for example); and how they should communicate. It’s your job to make sure they have all this crucial knowledge."
Hill and Lineback insist that you should not be discouraged if you find there are several areas regarding the three imperatives where you could do better, as no manager will meet all the implicit standards. They say the goal is not perfection but rather developing the strengths you will need to succeed and compensate for shortcomings.
Regarding what you can do right now, Hill and Lineback offer a three-step approach: prep, do, review:
1) Prep. Start every morning with a brief preview of events for the coming day and for each one, think about how you can use it for your development as a manager. Work on specific learning goals. Think about what you can delegate and how you should go about it.
2) Do. Hill and Lineback advise: "Take whatever action is required in your daily work, and as you do, use the new and different approaches you planned. Don’t lose your resolve."
3) Review. Once you've taken action, examine how you went about it and the results. This reflection is essential, say the authors, because it's where the real learning takes place. What did you do that worked well? What might you have done differently? If it helps, take notes and record your thoughts.
The authors say: "If you still need to make progress on your journey, that should spur you to action, not discourage you."