4 Things Exceptional Managers Do By Mike Nally, Founder and CEO

“Managers must manage” was a quote by Harold Geneen, former president of ITT Corporation, that was framed in the office of the best entrepreneur I was lucky enough to know—Carl Freeman. The message was a constant reminder and challenge to himself and the managers in his companies that management was a daily duty. He also expected his managers to be better than “paper-pushing bureaucrats.” He wanted his managers to assess, think, act, and lead.

During my time working for Carl Freeman, I observed him demanding that his managers do four separate activities continuously: (1) find ways to avoid problems, (2) solve problems while they are small, (3) improve systems, and (4) create opportunities.

1. Find ways to avoid problems.

A problem avoided is a problem solved. Good managers are engaged in what is happening and thinking ahead to what could happen so they can position their team to avoid unnecessary problems and obstacles. They adapt and adjust their course of action to take advantage of the situation.

How? Managers often have unique experience, perspectives, and information that allows them to see what could happen that isn’t yet apparent to their team. Therefore, they must be willing and able to guide, direct, and motivate the team to change the plan to avoid an unseen problem. To do so requires confidence to set a course contrary to what is expected, confidence to stand firm in the face of doubt and potential pushback from your team, and confidence to lead the team in a different direction. The best managers have the capability to galvanize their team to follow them and trust them to make necessary changes to avoid problems.

Sometimes these problems are avoided by creating the discipline of smart habits to prevent unnecessary disruptions—like changing the oil in your car so your engine doesn’t overheat. Other times, it’s implementing a new plan due to a change in the situation that may require the team to abandon work they started. The toughest solution may be to ensure the team completes the daily tedious tasks whose value only becomes evident after small shortcuts or skipping steps creates the opportunity for a problem to arise. Managers who avoid problems are vigilant and disciplined in looking ahead and acting to avoid an unnecessary problem.

2. Solve problems while they are small.

In business, little problems usually become bigger, more costly, and more time consuming to solve if they are allowed to fester and grow. One of a manager’s most important roles is to identify problems and solve them. Avoiding a problem because they hope it will go away or someone else will take care of it usually costs the company more time, money, and effort to solve later.

Managing means seeking out and solving problems. Managers who are defensive, worried more about their reputation, or concerned about the consequences of a problem on their watch will be less likely to seek and solve problems while they are small. They will downplay the impact of problems until they become too big to ignore.

This lag in acknowledging a problem is lost opportunity and increased cost to an organization. In contrast, managers who are willing to find the small problems within their span of control are more likely to solve them while they are small and more likely to contain the impact of unexpected problems. Their willingness to find and solve will also make them more comfortable in raising the alarm that will alert the organization to problems and patterns that could turn into catastrophic issues.

3. Improve systems.

Good managers look for better ways to do things and what’s next to make their team members more capable and confident.

There are many methods to improve systems—Six Sigma, lean, TQM, the Continuous Improvement process. All of these methods can work if there is a manager willing to implement a systems improvement process. The Continuous Process Improvement Model is the simplest and easiest to implement to create incremental improvements. The plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle is usually being executed by the best managers on multiple projects at once.

  • Plan – They identify opportunities and plan for changes. 
  • Do – They implement the change on a small scale.
  • Check – They analyze the results and the data to assess whether the change made a meaningful change.
  • Act – If the change produced valuable results, they expand the change initiative and continue to monitor results. When they fail to get the desired results, they start over—thereby creating a continuous improvement cycle through which they diligently search for meaningful and measurable improvements. 

4. Create opportunities.

The best managers want their people to one day take over their jobs. They want to teach them new skills, delegate increasingly challenging and meaningful tasks, and position them for continuous tailored growth and development.

To do this, they: 

  • Tailor their approach to the person
  • Delegate for development
  • Give clear and continuous instruction to help people understand what to do better
  • Support and guide people to help them through the learning process

“Exceptional” is often the exception—but it doesn’t have to be.

As an entrepreneur and leader, Carl Freeman was exceptional—and he expected his managers to be exceptional as well. He knew these four practices are key management tools. How many are you incorporating into your daily routine?

If you are interested in learning more about Mike Nally, his leadership experience, and how he helps others transform into exceptional leaders, schedule a FREE 30-minute discovery session using this Calendly link here and read more about him here.

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