Noticing a great manager

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A job well done may mean being almost invisible

Being a great manager is really hard. More so than I first thought since I think you more often notice the things that aren’t good, than the things that are. Think about a bad manager that you’ve had. That’s easy. Everyone has had one. Now think about a really great manager. Some of you have had them, and congratulations to you! But I suspect many find it harder to think of a really great manager than a really bad one. And that this isn’t just a matter of there being more bad managers out there either.

I’m starting to think that having a great manager means that you almost don’t notice him/her. I don’t mean this in an absent way — more like they are there when you need them, and not in your way when you don’t. No micro-managing, no unnecessary struggles, no sudden changes of plan. Instead they are there for direction, feedback and decision making. When your manager is great, your work flows. Often it probably flows so well that you hardly notice that he/she is there. Because he/she is just filling in the gaps that you need.

Of course the actual life of a manager contains much more than just the things above. In this lies the dilemma. When your work as a manager is great, then people notice it the least. Sometimes to the point that they think you’re not needed.

I think the primary skill as a manager is facilitating the progress of the team. Answering the question of: “Where do we want to go, and how can I make sure that we get there?” This means reducing friction and removing obstacles, hopefully before they even appear. In small teams this can mean anything from discussing processes and giving feedback on communication skills, to buying new office chairs or running out for coffee. It’s all part of the same, forward-driving, motion.

I started to think more about this as the team I was managing increased. And I had also been thinking about what I in turn expected from my superior, which in this case in the chairman of our board. That relationship is a little different, but I think the general point is the same. It’s harder to notice the good things.

When things flow, it’s easy to attribute it to the circumstances and surroundings without thinking about how they actually occurred. And for that matter — what is consistently being done to uphold and develop these circumstances. I frequently forget to think about this, and I expect that my colleagues do the same. It’s a shame. So consider if your manager is doing a great job, then let him/her know. I’ll do the same.

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