Management is a fickle beast. What works at one company certainly won’t work at another.
Does this problem apply to great managers? Can a great manager, manage anywhere?
The Art of Great Management
In order to answer this question, we need to look at what makes a manger great. For starters, there are two different perspectives on great management: company management and direct reports.
Every manager is judged by how effective they are at meeting the companies objectives. These objectives are usually set by senior management and can be a mixed bag of operational objectives and stretch goals.
No matter the goal, it’s up to the manager to achieve it — even if it’s unrealistic or down right crazy. The more you achieve, the more your management thinks you are a good manager.
Your direct reports have a different view of a great manager. For them, a great manager is one that develops and cultivates a culture where they are appreciated, developed and looked after.
To direct reports, great mangers know how to deal with organizational politics and keep them out of it.
In this view, a great manager protects their people from the insanity of upper management by sheltering them from the constant corporate struggle for power and influence.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
In order for a great manager to hold these two very different ideas in their heads — one of achieving the objectives of the company and the other protecting their people — they have to constantly adapt and adjust their style given the context in which they find themselves.
Great managers can context switch on the fly but that’s not the only skill they need.
All great managers (and even leaders) had a deep and wide support network in which they call upon to help in times of need. This network spans not only their group or division but is company and industry wide.
These support networks allow a great manager to stay great. If these networks are removed or marginalized, then the managers effectiveness will dwindle and they will no longer be considered great.
Support networks are vital to managing any type of group or company because the issues are too complex, the problems too layered and the information sometimes too muddle to grasp it all on your own.
Great managers also understand that support networks usually gravitate around the organizations center of influence which means that they have to constantly look out for shifts in the center of influence in order to remain great.
It’s the Culture Stupid
One aspect of a company that sets up whether or not a great manager can be great anywhere is it’s culture.
Culture will be the driving force behind how a manger is perceived and how successful they will ultimately be. If the mangers style is counter to the companies culture, then all bets are off for greatness.
In fact, Mark Papermaster, formerly of Apple, is a prime example of a successful IBMer that could not adapt to a new culture nor did the new culture appreciate his unique and special skills.
The quote that best sums up Mr. Papermaster’s culture class is from the book Inside Apple
“He [Papermaster] is warm, patient, and willing to listen — just not the right qualities for Apple. It was painfully obvious to everyone.”
This example highlights that great mangers need to be able to adapt their style to the culture in which they find themselves. This chameleon ability can certainly make them more productive but may not make them great because doing so may not cater to their strengths.
Charm and Charisma Meet Competent and Consistent
One other factor in being able to manage anywhere is how the company doles out rewards (e.g. Bonuses, promotions, resources, etc.). This is an aspect of the companies culture but it’s controlled by a select few (read senior management) so is not necessarily how the day to day activities are achieved.
If the company rewards style over substance than managers who get stuff done will be at a disadvantage to their witty and charming counterparts. This can also reverse itself for companies that are driven by metrics and accomplishment.
What is consistent about great managers is that they have to mix charm and charisma with competent and consistent performance to meet the needs of both senior management and their direct reports. Without such a balance, their support network would be too narrow and their achievements too focused — thus not allowing them to be great.
So The Answer Is …
What makes a manager great is situational. What works on one corporate battlefield may not work on another. Styles, personalities, company culture and priorities have a tremendous impact on a mangers overall performance and that of the company. It’s this realization that makes or breaks a great manager.