I have had a really interesting thread of discussion running with our alumni group about managerial capability and bandwidth. Many managers feel overworked and under-appreciated.
I have had the good fortune of being in a C-level position for a number of years and that gave me a vantage point to observe many managers in diverse situations. I found that some managers seemed to consume their bandwidth very quickly while others were insatiable. While it had some bearing on the complexity, customer pressures, quality of resources etc, in big picture, these factors contributed less. I could observe a clear difference in the managerial capability, which I would define as an ability to get things done. In the right manner is implicit here.
My world view is that there are 2 kinds of professionals in this world -
Individual Contributors - These could be engineers, sales people, investment analysts, traders, strategy consultants (I can see some people disagreeing right here) and others. These are people who “DO” work – write code, make calls, make complex financial models, deeply think about strategy etc.. Their bandwidth is limited by time. If a day had 48 hours, their productivity should be double.
Managers - These are people who get things done from the do-ers. They combine their perspective, domain experience, people skills, customer skills etc. to get a job done to a given specification. Naysers will say that the lines are not that clear between do-ers and managers and in fact, it’s a continuous spectrum. I agree to that but I would argue that that’s more because of the way managers get things done and their personal style vs. an innate desire on part of the organization to make them do things.
In my view, managers have infinite bandwidth. Look at President Obama, Jack Welch, Tim Cook and they have 24 hours in a day as well. They get a lot done. So time is not the real constraint. The constraints are different and can be solved by mind-set and intent. Let’s see what they are
One of my favourite management books is Good to Great. Jim Collins studies companies over several decades and tried to understand why some succeeded more than the others. He defines Level 5 leadership as the highest form of leadership which helped the really great companies surpass other by a good distance. Think Amex vs. others, for example. The deep analysis returned a very simple answer. Discipline. He divided it further – Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought and Disciplined Action.
Any number of words I write about the importance of Discipline will not be enough. Managers need to be able to keep track of their emails, their tasks, their calendars and their priorities. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. My guess is that a fairly large number of managers are not able to keep a good track of these. They don’t give it enough priority. Business schools focus much more on strategy than brass tacks. There are number of techniques from using available tools to formulating a process or a system that you can stick to, to sometimes using secretarial help if you really need (though in my opinion, with the progress of tools, its more work than help). Discipline is the key to unlocking vast hidden bandwidth from your calendar and more importantly, from mindshare.
I say mindset since most managers whine about resources a lot. Either they have too many to manage, or too few, or too unskilled, or ambitious… In a perfect managerial world, they have the perfect set of resources for the jobs at hand and then they can guarantee success! Isn’t this though the crux of managerial capability to use available resources to deliver best possible results? Isn’t that how you would determine the best managers? The best managers constantly re-assemble, re-assign, train, develop, remove, create, push and shove till they get the best combination to deliver on their most important goals. Hence, its a mindset issue. Managers get into a mindset where they forget that this is the most important part of their job. They worry about delegating (and still controlling quality), about individual egos, the pain of letting go people from their teams and so on and so forth. They do not take the tough decisions. Or a lot of times, any decision at all.
The reality is that managers work at a fraction of their potential. The answer to infinite bandwidth lies within and is completely within their own control. I would love to hear what managers think.