Better Days Ahead in the Practice of Management
by Skip Corsini

In case you haven't noticed, the people who serve at the top levels of our for-profit and not-for-profit organizations these days are having a tough go of it. This is true both in the realities of everyday business as well as in the vagaries of the public eye. The "blame the boss, chairman, chief executive officer" syndrome is alive and well.

The disposal of Gray Davis is a prime example, in two ways: one, he wasn't an effective leader, and two, he didn't even know how bad he was and therefore didn't fix his terrible image problem. So, we kicked him out for a bad, but wealthy, actor. But in the hubbub it must be remembered that most of the problems for which Davis was blamed did not originate with him.

Similar things are happening in the world of business. For every golden billionaire that runs off with his wives and mistresses in tow to Fiji there are 3 or 4 hundred leaders who had their kachungas cut off because they failed to make enough money, earn enough market share, sell enough widgets, or get themselves on Wall Street Week often enough.

The problem, of course, is that the actual practice of management, let alone it's glorified cousin, leadership, is mastered only after a number of stumbling, bumbling, vain attempts to work with people and other resources to achieve a desired goal or two. That so many people fail at it is no surprise; that so many succeed is the miracle.

Ask the best people in business today how they learned to manage and you are likely to get a real smorgy of answers, from watching their parents raise their siblings, to how their best coaches conducted practices, to how the corner grocer did business. I would become immediately depressed to know how many MBAs in finance our business schools graduate every year, because that number has an infinite lead over the number of MBAs in people.

In spite of the fact that there are almost as many books at Borders about leadership as weight loss, there is no way to learn to manage people by reading about how Electron Jack Welch did it for General Electric, for example. Clean living, good diet, and the right clothes are nice but they are of no help in leading. Having a lot of money is not bad but won't help you make people want to do anything they don't see value in doing. "Because I said so" works at home but not in the office.

We the people are just too smart today. We can spot a phony a mile away, and no amount of pedigree will cover the butt of an incompetent leader. Say what you want about our current president, but I find it comforting to know he graduated from Harvard Business School. It means any of us have a chance.

In my 31 years of business life I have been associated with a few exceptional managers. One size, one style, one background does not fit all, though there are some common elements. They have nothing to do with breeding, looks, hairstyle, or education. They have very little to do with who the person is. They have everything to do with how he or she behaves.

The best leaders have a strategic plan. The plan is exciting. Everybody understands it and has a role, a real chance to make a contribution. Accountability, like the flu, is a shared experience. So is responsibility. We need both to make for wholeness on the job. The quickest way to create a low motivation environment is through an imbalance of these two key ingredients.

The best leaders have clear goals. Around our office, we need 8.5 enrollments a week to meet our yearly revenue target. We have a scoreboard that everybody can see. We can all influence what numbers go on the scoreboard. We don't have to ask where we stand.

The best leaders are genuinely excited about what they do and about the people with whom they work. That excitement literally never ceases. It infects everybody in the office. Like good sex in a marriage, leader-initiated excitement gets the organization through the rough spots.

The best leaders have knowledge. Not about everything but about what is important. The more expert they are, the better the people around them perform. Bill Walsh was more than a coach; he created a system of offense that borrowed from the best brains he'd worked with and turned it into an art form.

Most important of all, the best leaders love people. They love their employees, their customers, their suppliers, their competitors, their detractors, and their admirers. Love itself is under appreciated as a business tool. It is probably the single biggest difference maker between the boardroom and death row. I'm not saying to get up and go kiss your cube mate. I am saying that when you make your people feel more important, you become more important to them. That's leading.

Skip Corsini is a Performance Consultant with Dale Carnegie Training in San Francisco. Contact Skip by e-mail: .

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Copyright 2004 by Skip Corsini. All rights reserved.

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