Three Ways of Thinking Like a Successful Manager

| May 18, 2011 | Reply

[tweetmeme]In defining managers’ mindsets, I consider the following attributes:

  • How they see things, or their perspectives on their world
  • What they believe in or what’s important to them
  • Their attitude or outlook toward the people and setting around them
  • Their views and pattern of thinking

My experience is that highly successful managers have a different way of thinking than average managers — which accounts for their strong success. I often have found that the way of thinking employed by subpar or even average managers actually underminds or sabotages their performance. The following three ways of thinking are essential to the success of any top-performing manager. In my book Manager’s Can You Hear Me Now?, I discuss six other ways of thinking.

Number 1: It’s Not about Me

Let’s face it: Being a manager can be a heady position. As a manager, you can tell people what to do because you are the boss. You may get to fly to far-off places, ride in limousines, and stay in nice hotels, or even appear on television. Given all these benefits of your position, it would be easy to become absorbed with yourself. On any given day, you might think it really is “all about me.”

But I’m afraid that is not the mindset of a top performer.

When I became president of Ameritech’s cellular subsidiary, Ameritech Mobile, the chairman of Ameritech told me something that has stayed with me ever since. He said I would be managing an entire company, and as the company’s most senior manager, I should always remember that the “stripes” I have been given are on the coat I wear, not on the person who wears the coat. He cautioned me to not let the job go to my head because when I take the coat off, I will just be a person like any other. Further, he said I should respect the position I had been given and use it only in ways to benefit our shareholders, customers, and employees.

Those words gave me a lot to think about. I decided no matter what my job, I would never make it about me; rather, my role as a manager would always be about the company, the organization, and its people. I thought of this as the “stripes rule” and reminded myself of it often over the years.

During my career, I came to easily recognize managers who didn’t understand the stripes rule. For example, when managers use the words “I” and “my” rather than “we” and “our” when describing the organization they manage or when talking about results, it’s a dead giveaway that their mindset is a bit self-centered.

Diverse business group meeting

Another sign that managers may be violating the stripes rule is when you start repeatdly seeing their names and faces in newspapers and industry publications, on the covers of magazines, or even on television commercials. Managers who begin to enjoy such self-promotion should recall seventeenth-century historian Thomas Fuller’s words, “Fools’ names, like fools’ faces, are often seen in public places.”

Successful managers don’t get trapped into thinking it’s all about them. Instead, they know that a company, or an organization within a company, its not made of any one person: it is the sum of all its resoures and people.

Number 2: It’s Important to Keep Your Cool

The most sucessful managers I’ve worked with over the years have been demanding bosses, but they’ve also always been respectful. Sure, from time to time they’d been upset, when, for example, a goal was missed or an assignment wasn’t completed on time, but even then, they always kept their cool. They didn’t yell, scream, or pound their fists on their desks. They didn’t call their employees “stupid” or talk poorly of them behind their backs. Rather, they dealt with the situation at hand in a calm, unemotional manner. They were polite, but firm, and worked to find a resolution to the issues rather than to place blame. They sought assurance that the situation would not happen again. Nonetheless, the employees alway knew they had let their manager down and their manager was disappointed.

One of the reasons managers strugle is because they often have their heads in the sand, since they only want to hear good news. Employees then become conditioned not to deliver bad news, worrying that their bosses may tend to overreact to it. I believe employees work even harder for managers who keep their cool at all times. Level-headed managers can always be assured that their employees will share information with them, even if it’s bad news, and get started on solving the problem rather than allowing it to be ignored.

Number 3: “Telling It Like It Is” Leads to Improvement

Many of us have worked at one time of another for managers who had trouble having a direct conversation — one in which they actually said what they really meant. Instead, they would use “weasel words” for what they were trying to say, being indirect and circuitous and not really getting to the point. Often, managers were leaving employees guessing about what was really meant.

Many times, this is the case when it’s time to deliver bad news. I’ll be one of the first to admit that discussing bad news, whether with a group of people or an individual, is one of the most difficult things good managers have to do and is precisely why a lot of managers are not good at it — some can’t bring themselves to do it at all.

However, uncomfortable conversations can create positive changes when people clearly understand improvements are required. I have always believed communicating directly — whether it was explaining poor results to an entire company or simply letting someone know I was not satisfied with his or her performance — was essential to improvement.

Good managers will tell it like it is, regardless if the news is good or bad. They know it’s best to speak honestly and openly at all times. If there is bad news to deliver, get it out and get it over with. Say it clearly and concisely, don’t try to sugarcoat it, and say it with respect. The people you work for and the people who work for you deserve to hear the facts and see the data. Without this information, it’s difficult for your employees to make the positive changes necessary for improvement.

Copyright © 2011 Denny Strigl and Frank Swiatek, authors of Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?: Hard-Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results

Author Bios

Denny F. Strigl, former president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, spent four decades in the telecommunications industry. He serves on the board of directors of the Eastman Kodak Company, PNC Financial Services and PNC Bank, and Anadigics, Inc.

Frank Swiatek is a performance consultant and speaker who has had more than 3,400 speaking engagements and seminars and has worked for more than 25 Fortune 500 companies, including Verizon Wireless.

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