#550  Innovative Leader     Volume 11, Number 4        April 2002

In Search of a Great Manager
by Ross R. Reck, Ph.D.

Dr. Reck is president of Ross Reck & Associates, positioning clients for new heights of achievement. He is author of The X-Factor (Wiley, New York, 2001). 

Phil Ross is a very bright man in his mid-30s who has developed into a very good manager.  His long-term goal is to become a great manager; he wants to be the president of his company one day.

Over the years, Phil has rigorously pursued his own personal development program.  He has attended numerous workshops dealing with various management topics—team building, motivation, empowerment, consensus building, problem solving, and labor relations.  He religiously reads the Harvard Business Review, Business Week, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as nearly every best-selling business book as soon as it becomes available.  Phil eagerly admits enjoying these activities and the learning that has come from them.  Recently, however, he began to experience a growing sense of frustration.

“How is it,” Phil asked himself, “that after 10 years of attending management workshops and reading everything I can get my hands on, I still don’t feel that I fully understand what management is all about?  Is it me, or is it that these lecturers and authors I’ve been exposed to don’t fully understand what managing is all about?”

Phil’s questioning and restlessness continued at work for weeks.  Again and again he pondered the same question: “What don’t I get about this whole management issue?  I know most of the jargon.  I practice much of what I have learned.  My team is in a good productive mode.  But I am not growing.”

One evening while searching through his library for an answer to a management concern, he had an inspiration.  “I know what it is!  Management is like a large jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered everywhere.  While each of the lectures and authors I’ve been exposed to seem to understand one or more pieces of the puzzle, none of them understand all the pieces, much less how they fit together.  If I’m ever going to understand fully what management is all about, I’m going to have to find all the pieces to this puzzle and solve it myself!”

The next day Phil created his own research project.  He decided to interview a large number of management experts—presidents of successful companies along with some of their top-level managers, as well as leading academics, consultants, and authors in management and related fields.  “Surely,” Phil thought, “with something as complicated as putting people into outer space having become routine, finding the pieces to the management puzzle and solving it shouldn’t be all that difficult.”

The results of Phil’s research project proved very interesting.  While most of the people he interviewed agreed with the idea that managing was a matter of getting things done through other people, none of them agreed on a best way to do it.  One successful company president told him, “To be a successful manager, you have to create a win-win situation with your employees.”  Another said, “The name of the game in management is to drive out fear and create an atmosphere of trust among your employees.  If you do this, results will take care of themselves.”

A leading academic told Phil, “Effective management is a function of developing proper individual or team performance measures and then monitoring those measures closely.”  On the other hand, several  leading authors strongly subscribed to the idea that “Successful management is a matter of empowering your employees to do the job and then supporting them in their efforts.”

The consultants he interviewed also had their own brands of advice.  One prominent consultant felt strongly that “Managing is a matter of wandering around among your employees, being visible, staying in touch, and promoting informal communication.  I’m not exactly sure why this works; it just does.”  Another leading consultant took a different approach: “If you hire good people in the first place, you are well on your way to being a successful manager.”

Phil was both disappointed and amazed by the results of his research project.  He was disappointed in that he felt no closer to solving the management puzzle than he was before the project started.  He was amazed that so many people who claimed to be management authorities, experts, and gurus simply weren’t what they claimed to be.  While each of them appeared to understand one or more small pieces of the management puzzle, none of them had a solid grasp of the big picture—how the pieces fit together.

Phil was stumped.  He was not about to give up on the quest to solve the management puzzle, but he had no idea how to proceed.

After dinner one evening, Phil settled in to watch the evening news.  As he gazed at the television, he continued to ponder his lack of success in solving the management puzzle.  Then a feature story caught his attention.  The story was about a man named Sam Wharton, who was president of a large manufacturing company headquartered in a nearby city.

Mr. Wharton had taken over as president of the company 10 years earlier.  At that time, the company was in a shambles and in serious danger of closing its doors for good.  Market share was at an all-time low, productivity gains were nonexistent, the union was on strike, and employee loyalty was a thing of the past.

Today, the company was experiencing record profits.  In fact, the company had been profitable every quarter for the past eight years.  In addition, the company was experiencing double-digit productivity gains thanks to the commitment of its unionized employees.  Employee morale and loyalty were at all-time highs, and the company now dominated its industry in terms of market share.

The reason for the feature story was that Sam Wharton was on his way to the White House to participate in a conference on corporate responsibility.  His company had been recognized by the President of the United States as an Outstanding Corporate Citizen.

“In the short time we have left, can you share with our viewers the secret to your firm’s success?” asked the reporter.

“I’d be happy to,” responded Mr. Wharton.  “It’s something I refer to as the X-Factor.  Over the years, I have learned that excited people produce extraordinary results.  So, the managers at my company and I get our people excited, and we keep them that way.”

“How do you pull this off?” asked the reporter.

“We simply give people what they are looking for in their jobs,” responded Mr. Wharton.

“What a fascinating answer,” said the reporter.  “Thank you so much for your time.”

Phil was very interested.  “I need to talk to Sam Wharton.  Maybe his X-Factor holds the key to solving the management puzzle.”

The next morning, Phil called Mr. Wharton’s company.

“Good morning.  Sam Wharton’s office, Mary speaking.  How may I help you?”

“Hello, my name is Phil Ross.  I saw Mr. Wharton on television last night and was hoping I might be able to meet with him to talk about the X-Factor—anytime at his convenience.”

“I know Sam would be very happy to talk to you,” responded Mary.  “He’s very busy, but he’ll always find a little time to talk to someone about the X-Factor.  He has an opening Thursday morning at 9:30.”

Phil arrived a few minutes early for his scheduled appointment and was warmly greeted by Mary.  He noticed that she was wearing a pin shaped like an X on her jacket lapel.  Sam was in his mid-50s and also sported the X-shaped pin. 

Phil explained his frustration in seeing the management “big picture.”  “Phil I’m impressed.  I made the same journey a number of years ago, though I was fortunate enough to trip over the solution to the management puzzle—although at the time I didn’t know it.  Go after extraordinary results!  And the way to achieve them is through the X-Factor.”

“What is the X-Factor?” asked Phil.

Sam smiled as he walked over to a blank flip chart, picked up a marker, and wrote:

The X-Factor

Getting ordinary people X-cited about going the X-tra mile to help you, the manager, achieve X-traordinary results.

That’s the secret to the management puzzle.

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