Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Great Managers

The Cabinet and I have read a book together. The book is published by the Gallup Organization and is the result of a massive study of middle level managers and how they contribute to effective organizations. Seen from one perspective, District Superintendents are middle level managers. First Break All the Rules is a guidebook for how managers can help their employees be more successful. I thought that you might enjoy seeing my notes on the book, which I distributed to the Cabinet at one of our meetings.

(Marcus Burkingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules, Simon and Schuster, 1999, the Gallup Organization.)

Talented and gifted employees need good managers. (Substitute “District Superintendent” for “Manger” in this book. I think it works amazingly well.) How do the world’s greatest managers, find, focus, and keep their most talented employees? The manager is more important than any other factor in building a productive work place. It is better to work for a good manager in a bad company than to work for a bad manager in a good company.

Basic Questions by the employee that reveal the quality of management: Do I know what is expected of me at work? Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my job right? Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday? In the last seven days have I received recognition and praise for good work? Does my supervisor care about me as a person? Is there someone at work who encourages my further development?

Every manager wants to get a positive response to these questions with every employee.

Great managers honor the unique differences with different individuals. Rather than bemoan those differences, they try to work with them, to try to accentuate their virtues, rather than work against them. People don’t change much. Don’t waste time trying to take out what was put in, rather strengthen what was put in. The manager reaches inside each employee, one employee at a time, and releases that employee’s unique powers. The manger’s role is a catalyst role, the one who speeds up the interaction between various substances in a situation. The manager becomes a catalyst to enable this situation in which an employee finds herself to be a learning and growing situation. Good managers become catalysts in four ways: they select a person, set expectations, motivate the person, and develop the person. These are the manager’s most important responsibilities.

You select a person. This demands clear-headedness. You must know how much of a person can you change. You must know the difference between talent, skills, and knowledge. You must know which one of these can be taught, and which cannot. You must know how to ask the questions that cut through a candidates desire to impress and reveal his or her true talents.

You must set performance expectations. You must balance the need for standardization, with the organization's need for creativity and flair.

You must be able to motivate. The main thing you have to invest is your time. You should spend as much time with your best people as your strugglers.

You must be able to develop the employee. We need to be masters at teaching and growth. You must combine closeness with sobriety of judgment about the person.

These are the four core activities of the catalyst role. If managers get distracted from these main activities, the organization will suffer.

Those of you who know the role of managers (District Superintendents) in United Methodism can see the possible connections with this book. Forgive me for saying, in a book a few years ago, that the United Methodist Church is “over managed and under led.” Leaders tend to be strategic thinkers, they look outward, look at the competition, look beyond today. Managers tend to look inward, toward the performance of the organization, in unleashing each employee’s ability to perform. Managers are absolutely essential. Without managers, the all-important catalyst role will be neglected.

I thought you might enjoy these insights from a management book and that you might join us in our rethinking of the role of the District Superintendent.

William H. Willimon

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