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What is a Manager’s Job?

Earlier this week I read an old (but still relevant!) Harvard Business Review article by John P. Kotter called “What effective general managers really do.” In it the author describes a research study in which he followed around several successful top-level managers in various industries, in companies of all different sizes. What he found was interesting—most of these managers spent very little time doing things most would consider “managerial,” like forecasting and planning.

These managers spent most of their days doing the following:
•    Talking to employees and asking questions about things they were working on
•    Joking around and also having brief personal conversations about family or other issues
•    Connecting with others around the office not directly in their network who had some sort of effect on getting the manager’s agenda accomplished
•    Reacting to multiple issues that arose throughout the day with discussion, advice, and the occasional directive.

Notice what all of these things have in common—communication! The researchers found that being an effective manager has little to do with having a great mind for finance or being a superior salesperson. The managers studied spent little time alone during the day. In fact, they had dozens of small, seemingly informal conversations that achieved multiple objectives. (Of course today some of the face-to-face contact is likely replaced by email or text.)

The manager’s main job is actually to engage employees and lead disparate teams through uncertain situations while keeping the business strategy in mind. To do that she must ask questions, offer advice, and help others find the answers they need to do their jobs.

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