On management: Simplify?

As I get older, I seem to want to make things simpler. I went to a seminar recently that lasted three days; it would have fit better into one. Some books I have read would have been better as pamphlets.

When I was in Florida I saw a kid about 10 years old on the beach running as fast as he could for about 50 yards, throwing something in the air that the seagulls really liked. Maybe they were fish eggs or wads of tuna, but the birds loved them enough to follow in a group, a flock of about 30 gulls almost in formation.

While the kid was running, the flock was just above him at about 2 feet more altitude, catching easily every morsel he threw. On the way back the boy made some circles about 20 feet in diameter as he did the return 50 yards. The birds followed like trained seagulls. Quite a sight.

Then the guy with him made it easier and simpler. He stood on one spot and threw the tasty fish morsels or whatever into the air and kept the flock of 30 just above, stationary like 30 helicopters. As he pivoted slowly, so did the gulls. Much simpler indeed.

So about the same time a guy says to me, “What is the single most important rule for managers?”

“Can’t do it,” I said. “It’s impossible. A good manager has to do lots of things right.”

“No,” he said, “What if you had to take all that stuff you always write about and boil it down to one rule that says it all or almost all?”

I don’t think I can do seagulls, but here is my most important rule for being a great manager: “Make sure that every single person who works for you embraces your plan for the group’s success.”
Here’s why I think this would work:

• You will have to talk to everyone in the group regularly because, as you know, people’s thinking and attitudes change as things progress, and you will have to check back to make sure you are still on the same page, or at least you will want to know how many pages apart you are.

• You will be honest because we, everybody, has a built-in sense of when people are trying to fool us. Try it and you will lose.

• You will be looking out for every member of your group because you already know or you will discover that people will buy into your ideas if you buy into theirs. In other words, if you know my goals and are trying to help me achieve them … I’ll give you my best work. If everyone in the group has the same feeling about you, they will also feel that way about the entire group. This also needs constant updating.

• You will decide that building people is more challenging and fun than anything else. If you get a reputation for this, the best of the best will want to work with you.

• You will establish an atmosphere where everyone brings their ideas, gets lots of credit, where no one gets criticized in public and where shouters or screamers are fired on the first occasion. Because you can’t build a team without these things.

• You will be a friend to all, but you will come to realize that you can’t socialize with everyone in the group, and therefore it’s not a good idea to socialize with anyone. You just can’t be a beer-drinking buddy and a good boss at the same time.

• You will not surprise your team members by leaving them, one or all, out of the loop on something important because you realize that you will want their opinion, buy-in and advice. Otherwise it’s just you and not a team. On another level it simply hurts to find out you have been left out. Do that to a person and you have lost them and their ideas and their loyalty.

In short, the fastest way to the top is to take some people with you.
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