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Passion, People and Principles

The Best Manager I Ever Had

post # 202 — September 28, 2006 — a Managing post

Think back to the best manager you have ever experienced. Someone who got the best out of you, and the rest of your group, to stretch and to accomplish more, while also enjoying it more.

What did this person DO, that made them so effective in raising your performance? (Specifics, please.) What was it about them as a person (if anything) that contributed to the effect they had on you and your colleagues?

Let’s not include any generalizations, theory or principles here. I’m looking for real stories about real people.

What do effective managers actually DO that makes them effective?


Ed Lee said:

The thing that stood out, for me, about my most successful manager was the way she could identify exactly what motivated her team members. If, like me, people were extremely competitve, she turned every project into a competition with clearly defined goals and “prizes”.

In comparison, the least effective manager simply barrelled on through her team without changing her style to get the most out of her team-members. If you’re a “manager” it’s your job to optimise your team’s performance, not to make them change to suit your mentality – which may affect their performance…

posted on September 29, 2006

Ed Gabrielse said:

Upon asking a somewhat trivial question, Jerome A. Harris, Managing Partner of Checkers, Simon & Rosner turned to me with a pained expression and said, “Don’t ask me a question like that again. I pay you more than enough to make those kinds of decisions.”

posted on September 29, 2006

Nick Saban said:

What a time to get this question…the best manager I have had will no longer be my manager after today. She is moving on to bigger and better things, and I am very happy for her.

I do need to give a little background. For the last 2 years, she led a small team of change management professionals as part of a major supply chain reorganization in a company that has prided itself on autonomy and entrepreneurship for its subsidiaries. Overall, the project has been ambiguous, and it has posed some direct and indirect challenges to the culture of autonomy and entrepreneurship that has made this company successful in the past. Through all of this, my manager has been more than I could have hoped.

Trust was a huge part of our relationship. From the beginning, she treated her staff as professionals and expected us to perform and get our work done. Our team had structure, but each person was allowed to use the style most appropriate to them. If one of us deviated too much from the structure, she would rein us in with direct, constructive feedback. Goals were clearly defined, but we each could achieve them in our own way.

We also had total support to get our jobs done. When roadblocks would arise (these were almost always people/management type issues), she would give us guidance if we asked. Otherwise, we handled the situation ourselves. She only got involved if we were completely stonewalled by our client.

She didn’t sweat the small stuff. We all traveled frequently. Our team knew our individual travel budgets, and we were given the freedom to manage it. If we ate a nice meal sometime during a long trip, she knew it would be offset by grabbing a quick sandwich while we dashed to the airport. We didn’t get nit picked on expense reports, and we have never been over budget. Again, we were trusted to be professional and act in the best interest of the company.

She shared information with us. This goes back to trust. We were expected to be complete professionals with the information we had been given. It was not like we had the formula to Coca-Cola, but we consistently knew information before other groups. Having this knowledge allowed us to be better at our jobs.

I hope that helps, and thank you for your blog. This is the first time I have commented, but your posts and knowledge have helped me greatly on this project.


posted on September 29, 2006

Kent Blumberg said:

My best manager set clear goals, asked me what I needed to get it done, and then trusted me to deliver results. That trust – leaving me alone until I asked for help (but holding fast to the required outcomes) – lit all my burners and had me ready to do nearly anything legal and ethical to deliver for him.

posted on September 29, 2006

Jennifer Davis said:

What made a good manager has changed as my career developed? In the early days, my best manager was the one who working alongside the team, mentoring, and demonstrating the kind of work ethic and energy that was required for success. As my influence and roles have expanded, the best managers are the ones who make it clear what the “end game” is and provide you the tools to do the work effectively.

posted on September 29, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Good stuff – all consistent so far, isn’t it? Anyone else’s experience different?

posted on September 29, 2006

Chris said:

My first real mentor always told me “Don’t ever say you can’t do something before you have fully exhausted all the options.” It instilled in me this sense of never giving up. When others throw their hands up and say “Forget it” I say “there is always a solution to every problem. We just have to figure it out.” It’s funny, but other people usually positively react to this type of enthusiasm and work that much hard in finding a solution to a problem…

P.S. I have just started going through your archived podcasts and they are absolutely brilliant… keep up the excellent work; it’s inspirational not only on a professional but also on a personal level

posted on September 29, 2006

David Frey said:

When I was a consultant, my best manager did the following:

1. He never got emotionally upset about a situation. He was “cool hand luke.”

2. When I screwed up he would take me aside and ask me about what happened and then he would give some counsel. He never scorned me.

3. He cared about my progression in the company.

4. He could always find a solution to every problem. He used to say, “There is no problem, only issues that need to be resolved.”

5. 11 years and 3 jobs later, we still keep in touch. (In my mind, even though I now am in a higher position that him and make more money, I think of him still as my mentor).

posted on September 29, 2006

Dean Fuhrman said:

The best managers I ever had let me be me … they let me explore the edges of what I could do independent of what they could have done in the same situation. This caused me to stretch my skills and in the long run to do better work. They provided support but not too much to allow matters to leave my court. They also set a very high standard for work product and that caused me to stretch. I learned an enormous amount in that time period.

posted on September 30, 2006

Chris said:

Another great manager I had was always able to ground me while supporting my ideas in business development and marketing management. He was very supportive of even the most “out there” ideas I threw at him and was always able to help me break down my ideas into practical and manageable milestones… he truly helped me achieve a new level of professionalism and was always genuinely happy when I had a big win.

posted on September 30, 2006

Sunil Choudhary said:

First a little background,

My work is related to technical/computers esp Application Servers and Database infrastructures, which constitutes the backbone of new information boom.

My Best/first manager was more of a Geek kind. We were one team, never imposed his authority

Taught me to think

* What our Projects/Clients might be needing in future

* Keep GREAT documentation of your past technical successes as well as failures

* Troubleshoot a totally new techical problem.

* Be passionate about my work.

Today i seem to have lost contact with him, but i really respect him for all he has done for me. Thanks Sanjay Sir

posted on September 30, 2006

Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan said:

I had the best manager many years ago when I was working at St. George’s Hospital in London. His name was Edward Sanders, so we naturally called him Winnie the Pooh. He gave me lots of freedom how the work was done as long as it was done. I regularly took Friday or Monday off and he didn’t care because the work was done.

He was not obsessed by number of working hours, and that made him one of the smartest managers I’ve ever come across. He focused on ends not means. We had some disagreements here and there, but I had huge respect for him.

I could walk into his office anytime for help. He never was too busy to help. It was my best employment ever since I defected from Hungary in 1988.

posted on October 1, 2006