On Being a Manager

or, How to Really Motivate Your Employees
or, The Best People Manager Doesn’t Even Manage People

They once called me Colonel Kurtz. Mind you, I’ve never seen “Apocalypse Now”, so someone had to explain to me why that should be derogatory. I guess I can see why some people considered me dangerous… I upset the ox cart. I changed the rules and I won. Mind you, I didn’t break the law or even do anything immoral. What I did was my job and that bothered them. I just didn’t do my job their way.

Innovation in any area comes when people break “the rules” or when they don’t stick to the accepted parameters. It’s status quo that keeps us confortable, and keeps us “safe” – or so we think. My rulebook, unless otherwise dictated to me, was my conscience. What is right? What will benefit everyone and not just me or my company? I know Steven Covey talks a lot about that, but he is just echoing what so many of us have known for years. Do the right thing. Respect the other guy. Go for the win-win.

That philosophy applies everywhere, not just in isolated examples.

Let’s see. I had to lease space and build an office in no time flat, then build a Sales Team, Systems Admins, Office Manager, Product Specialists, and Implementation Consultants. I did it and we beat every sales number that the company had the year after I started. How?

There will be those who will assuredly debate to whom the credit goes, but as I made the bad bucks stop at me, I will let this good one as well. Let’s face it, the largest single license fee this software developer ever collected was on a customer that I brought to the table.

Nevertheless, I had a pretty simple philosophy that I expressed to many of the people that I hired during that first year. Yes, they called me a Managing Director, but I did not see that the most effective way to build this business was to manage people, so as I hired them, I told them this, “I am not here to tell you how to do your job. I hired you because you know your job. My job is to give you the tools you need to be most effective and then show you where to do it.”

I had done all of their jobs, except the office manager, so I know how to do them. I know how to tell if they aren’t doing it, and I know how to equip them properly to be successful at their job. What I don’t know, I ask and learn.

I found out that I was not nearly as good a communicator as I should be, and I let personal issues get in the way of being even more successful, but I did discover along the way that the best way to build a strong work force is to believe in people, equip them to do their job, and get out of their way.

I also learned that when you hire the best people, they are often eccentric. Sometimes they are downright pains in the tail, but if you work patiently with them to let them do their job and keep people out of their hair as well as keep them out of management’s hair, you can still win. I once told a prime consultant, “You can be my best friend or worst enemy; the choice is yours.” I let him know the trouble he was making for me and how I had been protecting him as much as I could. I fought for him for over a year, knowing that most of the things he was doing that irritated my bosses would pay off big time for them. They did, and they finally made it up to him after nearly firing him several times.

What are the salient points here?

  • Find good people
  • Pay them what they are worth
  • Equip them to do their job
  • Make opportunities for them to do their job
  • Get out of their way

I know, these points are simple. Think about them. Pray about them if you have to. Most of all, implement them. When your people win, you win. Every time.