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Published: 2008-03-26

6 Habits of Highly Successful Managers



All too often we see people in managerial roles for which they are ill-suited or unsuccessful. Perhaps they got promoted after having success in their staff position, or they outlasted their coworkers, or they lobbied successfully for a "promotion". But reasons such as these often don't produce a highly successful manager.

Why not? Because being a manager is a new career. It's as different from a person's former role, as a teacher is from an accountant. And a person in the wrong role is a prescription for failure - often resulting in stress, anger, resignation from a job, or dismissal.

Our culture plays a role in all this. We've been taught mightily from an early age that being the leader is a rightly ambitious road to success. So folks aspire to management, even when they don't have the tools and skills needed.

We concluded that there are six activities that managers can undertake to improve greatly their chances of success. We call them Six Habits of Highly Successful Managers. Using the Six Habits will compel you to do the Right Things (good leadership) as well as to do Things Right (good management). In effect, you'll have a road map for doing the Right Things Right.

Habit 1 - Set goals all the time

One of our former clients, and now a long-time friend, is Royal Robbins. Royal was the first person to climb solo up the forbidding 3,000 vertical face of El Capital in Yosemite National Park. His vision was to make it to the top, which he did, but when he tells the story you realize that he did it 5 feet at a time.

So it is with a business. Goals are a means for moving the company closer to its vision, and those goals must be reset frequently.

The first step, then, is the creation of the vision, a long term goal. It's a clear picture of the firm sometime in the future, in which it is significantly better in some way than the current state, especially regarding its customers, performance, employees, and culture.

The second step is the creation of company goals for the near term, such as annually or monthly. These goals are designed to move the company toward its vision, and they also should be challenging yet reasonable, measurable, and total 3 or less (so that everyone knows what they are).

The third step is to create goals for everyone in the organization. These goals, in total, will accomplish the company goals.

Habit 2 - Focus on the process, not the plan

Sticking to one plan is virtually impossible in today's economy. Instead, managers must have the skills to change plans quickly to adapt to ever-changing conditions.

The flight now called the "Miracle in the Hudson" was successful because the pilots had an effective planning process. They surely didn't take off with a plan for landing in a river, but they had a planning process that allowed them to very quickly create a successful outcome.

There are five steps for creating a planning process for on-going success in your firm:

- Identify the right information

- Engage everyone in collecting the information

- Create successful strategies based upon the information

- Modify the strategies in light of new information

- Do this frequently

Habit 3 - Coach the right people

We believe that everyone can succeed in the right position and that everyone can fail in the wrong position. Consequently, a successful manager's job is to (1) find the right people to put into the positions needed by the organization to attain its goals and (2) coach those people to excellence.

We also believe that natural abilities play a very significant role in driving an individual to success, and it is a manager's challenge to determine whether a candidate or current employee possesses the valuable natural abilities needed.

For example, a true love for numbers will greatly help an individual succeed in an accounting role, while a social and engaging attitude might better fit a customer service role. Natural abilities can't be taught, so it is important that a manager use an effective assessment process for identifying people who already possess them. She must hire the right person, not the right resume.

Habit 4 - Serve the right customer

You know that you need clients, and you know that you have to serve those clients in some great way. But do you structure your firm in the best interest of the client? Don't you often structure things to be convenient for the firm, and hope that it works out ok for the client? Is ok good enough?

There are five steps, or building blocks, for building your firm around your clients:

- Define a good client

- Create the right strategies for that good client

- Create a sales process to secure and serve your good clients

- Create an operations process to serve your good clients

- Constantly build the culture

The strategies you create will be specific to your clients and to your firm, and you should think hard to create successful ones. Constantly building the culture requires that you invest the process with importance and do it regularly with everyone involved in some way.

Habit 5 - Empower your entire team

We're frequently reminded that "management would be an easy job if you didn't have to deal with people". But successful managers know that empowering all their people allows them to avoid micromanagement and to work on their business rather than in it.

To do this, the manager sets clear goals and clear boundaries. She also must be certain that the employee has three important characteristics: the correct principles, reliability, and competency (including the right natural abilities). When this is established, the manager can set the employee loose to attain her goals in her own way.

We think of this as "wide boulevards, high curbs". The employee has great latitude, but the goals and the boundaries are clear and unambiguous.

Habit 6 - Do the right things right

Great management is not a happy accident. It happens when a manager does the right things right.

Successful managers know that having a system of managing greatly increases their effectiveness. Such a system provides the "three Cs": clarity to the team, effective communication, and commitment from those affected.

An important element of such a system is to compare and manage your actual achievements with your goals. We call this the "plan versus actual" exercise, and it should be done at least monthly.

A second element is team resourcing, a structured type of brain storming used when attaining the goals is in jeopardy. It harnesses the creative and intellectual power of the group while leaving responsibility and accountability to the individual.

Other elements of an effective system of managing include a goal-specific position description for everyone, one-on-ones (5 minutes once a week) with each member of the team, a daily huddle (5 minutes) with the team, and a firm-wide reward when the goals are attained. These all require minimal time while providing high benefits.

What's next?

Try this. It works!

John Cioffi is the co-author of "6 Habits of Highly Successful Managers" . He is a Wharton MBA graduate, a former executive in companies from start-ups to a Fortune 100, and a business coach and owner of Goal Makers Management Consultants.