#156 from R&D Innovator Volume 4, Number 5          May 1995

Your Managerial Effectiveness is Influenced by How You See Your Role
by Nicholas Imparato

Dr. Imparato is professor of business, University of San Francisco, and consults on management.  With Oren Harari, he published Jumping the Curve:  Innovation and Strategic Choice in an Age of Transition (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1994), from which this article was adapted.  Phone (415) 666-6771.

Traditionally, performance has been viewed as a function of ability and motivation.  I think something’s missing from this neat equation: an accurate idea of the manager’s true role.  Increasingly, the failure to boost performance reflects not a lack of motivation or ability, but an inaccurate reading of the manager's role, which has change significantly from what was needed yesterday, especially in our fast-paced, information-limited, and highly competitive technology-based organizations. 

I’ve worked with colleagues Oren Harari and Linda Mukai in conducting research involving hundreds of managers in diverse industries.  From this research, we found correlations that clearly differentiate highly- and less-effective managers.  As you read, consider how you rate yourself, and how others may rate you, on these attributes.

Embracing change.  Less-effective managers dislike change, and prefer predictability, order and stability.  Many believe that turbulence in their firms is temporary or blame it on senior management, and prefer to wait until "things settle down" before tackling big problems. 

In contrast, highly effective managers recognize turbulence, flux, and ambiguity as facts of life.  They know the environment will never "settle down."  Many of these managers are energized by turbulence, because it creates opportunities.  Some said they would soon be bored by a predictable, stable work situation.

Attending to external realities. Less-effective managers focus their time and attention on the routines of the internal organization.  Their memos and meetings revolve around budget variances, paper flow, procedures, and personnel, and they are hypersensitive to company politics. 

In contrast, to the extent that the highly effective managers attend to the organization, they are trying to accelerate it and cut the bureaucracy.  In addition, much of their attention, in and out of meetings and memos, focuses on external issues, such as changes in markets and technology.  Many take it upon themselves to regularly meet with customers, suppliers, and consultants.

Creating power. Less-effective managers consider their power to get things done severely limited, since they believe that real power resides with top management.  They say, "It doesn't pay to try to get things done until senior management gets its act together."  They also believe that power comes from job titles and positions on organizational charts. 

Highly effective managers distinguish formal authority and power.  Although they recognize that top management has more formal authority, they believe that power, like respect, is earned, not given out.  Since these managers view power as the ability to influence people and get things done, anyone can have power. 

Promoting a coaching style.  Less-effective managers spend relatively little time coaching their people, and they see coaching in terms of delegation: assigning well-defined tasks and carefully following up. 

Highly effective managers want people to devise new ways to do things and encourage them to "challenge the system" with an eye to improving efficiency, containing costs, and enhancing revenue.  Once they outline the fundamental do's and don'ts, these managers get out of the way.

Expanding job responsibilities.   Less-effective managers see their primary responsibility as meeting the demands of bosses, job descriptions, and annual goals.  They assume that it’s up to the boss to expand their job responsibilities and goals and often complain of being in dead-end positions.  Yet when responsibilities are increased, they often complain about feeling overburdened.

In contrast, highly effective managers envision opportunities and accomplishments and thus seek out and grab new responsibilities.  They constantly think about how they can make things better.  In effect, they’re continually reshaping their jobs.

Creating expertise.  Less-effective managers recognize the importance of expertise but are "too busy" to grow (or hire) it; often, they see developing expertise as someone else's job.  They tend to discourage curiosity (under the guise of "keeping people focused") and discourage efforts to keep abreast of developments in the technical field, the company, and the industry.  In dealing with lower levels and other departments, they see their role as moderating and filtering information flow, assuming that this will give people what they need to know to do "most things right."

Highly effective managers, however, see their roles as developing experts and expertise throughout the organization.  They promote specific skills and "deep talent" in everything from computers to business literacy.  They encourage subordinates to find applications for new technologies, and promote mentoring and education programs to ensure professional vitality.  They concentrate on helping people understand the business and emphasize the importance of widening information flow and building internal systems to pump more knowledge through the organization.

Driving out fear.  Less-effective managers work from a primitive philosophy of fear (how often have you been told, in effect, "these are times that separate the men from the boys?").  They think fear is (with the possible exception of greed) the best motivator in business.  They also use— as a matter of style—intimidation, rudeness, abruptness, broken promises, a rush to judgment, and a general tone of "the workplace is a jungle."  Ironically, even as they use fear to "motivate" others, these managers often demonstrate their own fears by dampening other's ideas--especially when they differ from the manager's preferences, or from standard operating procedures.

Highly effective managers acknowledge the corrosive effect of fear.  While they keep high standards and exhibit a sense of urgency, they see their top priority as making it safer to challenge the process so long as it’ll benefit organizational goals.  They’re also comfortable working with individuals with heterogeneous ideas and values.  They see their role as defusing personal fears about confrontation, loss of influence, and being left behind by changes in technology and organizational structure.  They use a variety of techniques, including open-door policies, supportive feedback, and training programs; but most important is their belief that the leader must reduce fear and prevent it from enervating the workplace and thwarting change.

Exhibiting readiness for an entrepreneurial environment.  This factor cut through all others we found.  Less-effective and highly effective managers alike want initiative and creativity from their work associates.  They all speak of their employees' need to "think and act like businesspeople."  Yet less-effective managers typically refuse to share financial details with other levels and departments.  They guard the processes for allocating resources.  They don’t share decisions about alliance opportunities and results of marketing or competitive analysis studies before thoroughly scrubbing them.

Highly effective managers see their role as developing a culture in which everyone has the information to make decisions and take risks, and are compensated for getting the information and acting on it.  These managers know this approach flies in the face of traditional compensation schemes.  They also organize projects to encourage ownership and accountability by the group doing the work--for example, in self-directed work teams.  They constantly seek to find and strengthen ways to enable and motivate everyone in the group to act as an owner.

Keeping balance.  Less-effective managers seldom distinguish consequential changes from insignificant ones.  Often they “play it safe” while appearing busy.  For example, one director saw switching to a different vendor as a high-impact change even as he stayed with the same unresponsive distribution channel.  In general, less-effective managers fiddle around the edges of a problem, psychologically "hanging out in familiar places."

Highly effective managers distinguish high- and low-impact interventions.  They recognize that high-impact change often involves a restructuring of operations, not just manipulation of superficial forms.  For example, they’re reluctant to layer new technology on an old system, at least until the process is overhauled.

Maintaining a sense of continuity.  Less-effective managers operate in the here and now.  They demonstrate no appreciation of how the past affects the present, for the way prior conditions (markets, corporate culture, strategic decisions, leadership styles) influence today’s organizational processes. 

Highly effective managers try to connect past circumstances to the current situation, yet while they appreciate the past, they don’t cling to it.  Finally, they explain prior circumstances without rationalizing and justifying errors or missed opportunities; in other words, they don’t allow a “victim” mentality.

Demonstrating emotional maturity.  There were two components to this factor.  First, less-effective managers have difficulty maintaining their composure under stress, and allow their immediate personal needs to distort the way they see themselves as managers.  Second, they’re also turf- and status-conscious.  They see little value in mingling with people in “lower” levels, or in pitching in to perform menial or nontraditional tasks during a crunch.

Highly effective managers project a combination of urgency, passion, composure, and confidence during tough times. They’re not afraid to work collegially with anyone (regardless of department or level), or doing whatever is needed to get the job done. 

Providing the long view.  Less-effective managers, even those who talk about “vision,” seem unable to draw a coherent, practical “big picture” context for themselves or their colleagues.  They doubt the value of providing shape and overview to events. 

Highly effective managers also talk about vision, but their approach is to make and share best bets about where the world is going, where the organization ought to go, and how all that might affect daily work.  Effective managers are concerned to help others avoid terminal vision and managerial myopia.  Accordingly, they invite discussion of changes in technology, markets, and the business environment.

Standing for an idea.  Less-effective managers are unaware of what values they represent, short of “making plans” or “meeting budget.”  There’s little coherence in the pattern of their decisions.  On one hand, they seem to favor everything—cost-reduction, quality, innovation, service—but their decisions lack consistency and continuity.  Indeed, they often take contradictory positions, depending on the political circumstances, and are susceptible to fads and programs-of-the-month.

Highly effective managers stand for one or two ideas—self-management or speed, for example—and are tough, persistent, and consistent in how they express those ideas.  They’re also eager to enroll others in the same point of view.  They go to great lengths to avoid acting expediently or appearing opportunistic.

In summary, the tumultuous changes around us demand new behaviors and actions.  It’s much more critical that we understand how our management style influences our effectiveness.

Without an accurate perception of our roles, all the advice and how-to’s in the world are worthless.  Inaccurate role perception explains why so many mangers--no matter how many seminars they attend and management tapes they audit--can’t translate their knowledge into higher job performance.  And if they don't understand their role, managers won't be able to accumulate the skills and capacities they need to channel their motivation in the right direction, let alone to motivate others toward the proper goals.

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