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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guidelines for Managers

Several readers paid me a very meaningful compliment recently. They asked me to compose a post about what qualities a good manager needs to be effective. So, here is my list. None of the items are probably original in your eyes but you may not have seen this mix of attributes before. Here goes:

1) Provide constant encouragement—this to me has to be the number one attribute that a strong manager must exhibit every day. All of us need encouragement and most of us do not get anywhere near enough in our private lives or on the job. I once worked for and with a man who was wonderful with entry level people. He told them what bright futures both they and the industry had. But his senior team never received the slightest hint of encouragement. I asked him about it and his response was that if he was paying someone $100,000+ per year they did not need encouragement. Smiling, I countered with something like “aren’t the senior team people, too.” He truly did not get it. I made it a point to encourage him especially after new business losses (he had many as all of us do). He really seemed to appreciate my pep talks but could never seem to do it to many who needed it the most. Encourage everyone above and below you. We all crave it and need it.

2) Manage by walking around—I always did this well. For nearly 30 years, I made it a point to talk to every team member every day. I did not meddle but I tried to get the pulse of what was happening. After a while, people would come to me for help or suggestions. Too many managers hid behind e-mail and do not communicate well. E-mail is wonderful but face to face meetings especially informal, ad hoc ones are far more valuable. So, get off your butt, leave your comfortable office and talk to the team. You will learn a lot.

3) Hire people who read—Ask people whom you interview what they have been reading lately. Often the best hires are those who are well read and continue to stay current. They stay up to date on the fast moving trends in our business and will feed you articles and film clips that you need to see. It is like having a private research service down the hall. You also have people to talk to. It can get very lonely being a manager of people who merely do the letter of the job but have no real interest in what is going on outside their tiny corner of the world. Staffers who read a lot make for a more interesting workplace and you will get some great ideas from them. Be very wary of people who say that they are too busy to read material that you ask them to review. If it is a single mom with three kids, cut her some slack. She may be a living saint. Anybody else, not having time often means that they are watching too damn much television or addicted to Facebook.

4) Hang on to the best people—stand on your head to keep the key staffers. They make you look good and hold things together and give the whole firm a chance to grow. These days not many can hold you up for more dollars as they have few places to go but if you create a good environment they will want to stay.

5) Don’t ask people to do things that you will not—I had a few bad experiences as a youngster in the business. One jerk would come to my desk around 4pm with a pile of assignments. He would say “have this completed by 9:30 tomorrow morning” (that was when he showed up). Another would call me from a golf outing asking me why I had not put more money with the media vehicle that had taken him to Florida or simply given him a Wednesday off at posh country club. I vowed that I would never behave that way and never did.
If my team was busy, I was busy too. It cost me some late nights and too many Sundays at the office but I don’t think that anyone resented me for the amount of work that they did relative to me. Years ago, in Texas, I ran into our Chairman on Friday night as we were both leaving the office. He asked about my weekend plans. I told him that I was coming in with several media staffers to work on a plan that was due Tuesday. At noon Saturday, he showed up and talked to everyone and people were thrilled. He then took off and we continued to grind. An hour later he returned with a gourmet Chinese spread for all of us. He thanked everyone for giving up their weekend and stayed to help collate copies with the weary team later in the day. The man was a leader and a thoroughly decent human being. He could not write a media plan if his life depended on it but he won everyone’s respect that day and still has mine.

6) Listen—when a staff member is talking with you look up from your keyboard, put down the phone, look them straight in the eye and listen! People are trying to tell you something. Give them your attention. It will pay you rich dividends.

7) Praise in public; reprimand in private—sadly, I have seen too many senior executives humiliate someone in front of others. Save the dressing downs for a private session. They may deserve it but you do not have to undercut them in front of their peers.

8) Hire the best—keep interviewing people even if you have no openings. You will have people leave and you always need to upgrade if you are to grow stronger as an organization. If a new person will not make your organization stronger, why bother?

9) Be very nice to nerds—the odds are overwhelming that you will end up working for one some day!

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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