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Insights Into Large-Company Change Capabilities

Jesse Jacoby

Jesse Jacoby and the Emergent team recently interviewed 28 change leaders at large companies to better understand their internal change management capabilities. While not a statistically significant sample, the insights provide valuable perspective on the evolving practice of enterprise change management within large companies.
The companies represented have revenues ranging from $5 to$137 …

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Culture, Employee Engagement, Human Capital Management, Management, Recently Published Articles, Talent Management »

Great Managers – as Rare as Hen’s Teeth?

Jesse Jacoby

smiling-henUntil quite recently, the expression “As rare as hen’s teeth” meant pretty much never. But several years ago, scientists at two universities (Manchester and Wisconsin) learned how to make them grow. Chickens, it seems, didn’t need dentures after all.

That is an especially appropriate metaphor with respect to great managers, because although they can be extraordinarily difficult to find, they, too, can be grown.

What is it about great managers that distinguishes them from the mediocre, bland, or just plain dismal? Principally, there are just two things. One is expertise; the other is their ability to work with people. It seems to be fairly rare to find someone who does both exceedingly well.

Think about those who are unusually competent. What are their strengths? For one thing they know their field better than anyone else. They understand the developments and innovations in their industry. They know who their competitors are, and how to stay on the cutting edge of what they’re doing. (Great managers hardly ever work in mediocre organizations. As soon as someone hears about them, they’re snatched away for better things. This is a hint if you aspire to advance in your career.)

Quite often, they’re extremely bright. They learn a lot faster than their peers, and they see things that others don’t understand, don’t care about, or miss altogether. That alone is as much of a blessing as it is a curse. It’s a blessing because they find it easier to stay on top of things than those who aren’t, to spot trends ahead of everyone else, and to take action before everyone else catches on. But it’s a curse because arrogance is often an unfortunate side effect. Those who “don’t suffer fools gladly” fall into this camp.

And it’s that arrogance that keeps so many from possessing the other indispensable trait of great managers: their ability to manage people. All too often the most capable feel that they are too important, too busy, or both to “make nice.” And the truth is that it doesn’t take any more effort to be nice to people than it does to be ugly. The funny thing is that when people know that you care about them, they will make your job a lot easier. They’ll actually cooperate. That’s why managers who are, shall we say “less competent”, often do so well. They’re people love them and help to carry them along.

Those who know how to manage people have no motivational issues. People want to work for them. They want their managers to succeed. Those who can’t be bothered, on the other hand are left to find ways to overcome de-motivation, all the while making matters worse; not better.

Those who care about others don’t have to worry about adversity and resistance. That’s because both they and those in their charge are all pulling in the same direction. Their attitude is expressed like this: “What should we do together that will enable us to get from where we are to where we want to be?” Contrast that with the attitude of those who lack these skills. They brood over ways to make life difficult for those they manage or to simply push them out of the way. No wonder they get resistance.

There’s a story about the wind and the sun. Both bet the other that they can get a man seen walking along the road to take his coat off the quickest. The wind goes first. He blows, and blows and blows. The harder he blows, the more firmly the man clings to his coat. Then it’s the sun’s turn. With no wind and lovely, warm sunshine, can you guess what happened?

To be a great manager, you must know what you’re doing. In fact, it helps to know more about the core business of the company than anyone you supervise. But you also have to know how to get the best out of people through means other than sheer terror. In other words, you need to convey the warmth of the sun, rather than the cold of the wind.

If you can do both, then you’ll be on the road to greatness. Keep it up, and you’ll get there in the end.

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