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What Makes Managers Remarkable?
Building New Skills to Bridge the Present and the Future
by Caela Farren, Ph.D., MasteryWorks, Inc.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

—John Quincy Adams

Great managers understand each person has unique strengths and recognizes that "helping people become more of who they are" will best support their success.Competing in a Global Market
In a recent article in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote that employers and managers are asking whether workers or direct reports are adding value every hour, every day — “more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets?” In his July, 2011 column, Friedman wrote that “organizations need to attract, hire and retain workers with critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t - while engaging workers to invent and reinvent their jobs.”

What Tom Freidman finds most striking is how many organizations have become more productive “by deploying more automation technologies, software, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.”

Changing Ideas about Management

There have been thousands of books published about management skills, process, style, characteristics, and sure pathways to successful management practices. Years ago, the traditional thinking was that people did not reinvent themselves or their jobs as Thomas Friedman suggests. Once you were hired, you had a job for life. Managers were there to nurture employees, to help set job descriptions, to monitor performance annually, to assure the right job fits and to leverage their workers’ strengths while mitigating their weaknesses. Managers paced themselves with patience to address the unique needs and abilities of each of their employees. They believed everyone had special abilities and talents and worked to improve and overcome weaknesses. An employee success was seen as their manager’s successes.

The conventional hiring practice was to look for experienced, intelligent and determined job candidates. Once hired, managers set expectations by defining the right steps to succession and motivated through defining strengths and weaknesses and trying to overcome weakness. Managers were responsible for helping their reports learn their jobs to get them promoted. Jobs remained relatively stable for years or decades.

Much of that thinking changed ten years ago when Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman published “First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” which reviewed the conclusions of a Gallup interview of over 80,000 successful managers. Collecting answers to 12 management questions, Buckingham and Coffman found that the best managers commonly challenged traditional human resource management and development beliefs. Thousands of the best managers stated in various way that “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”[2] This notion encourages building on what people can do well instead of trying to concentrate on weaker abilities. Great managers understand each person has unique strengths and recognize that “helping people become more of who they already are,” will best support their success. When motivating someone, they focused on strengths, not on weaknesses; and when they developed someone, they helped him or her to choose the right job fit, not simply the next rung on the ladder.

In today’s context of rapidly changing conditions, no career is a sure thing anymore – including managers. Managers are now choreographers of free agents rather than authority figures over loyal employees. How do they coach and guide their employees to generate new ideas that differentiate themselves and their company?

New Requirements for Remarkable Managers
The art of management is a learned skill. It can be learned through practice, observation, on-line management teaching tools, enterprise web portals, observation of other managers, reading books, going to classes and conferences, by experiment, from trial and error, through successes and failures as well as personal relationships. Here are some basic requirements for successful managers.

Find Your Employee’s Uniqueness and Reinvent Work Accordingly. Great managers are great observers and listeners. They listen to and watch each person for signs of unique gifts or individual talents and then provide opportunities to develop those gifts and talents further.. Remarkable managers focus on strengths more than weaknesses. This is where job reinvention is so important.

  • If the product software licensing calls for more expertise in security, do you move that part of the job to an outside paralegal or invite an employee build that strength within your team?
  • If you have salespeople that love to hunt and others that love to build relationships, how do you deploy that team?
  • If the bookkeeping part of the business becomes relatively stable and your finance person is outstanding in negotiating contracts and upselling your products and services, how do you leverage your team for maximum performance?

Great managers are remarkable because they recognize the uniqueness of their employees and work with them creatively to use their gifts. Job descriptions continue to be reinvented and negotiated.

Care and Problem Solve with Your Employees. Great managers are generous with their time, listen, and help their employees pursue their passions. Do you know the most important personal or professional concern of each of your employees? Recently polled employees cited:

  • Being known by leaders
  • Time to coach sports with their children
  • Finishing college
  • Juggling work and single-parenthood
  • Finding a mentor in global purchasing
  • Making more powerful presentations

Do you know the “real” concerns of your employees? Are you working with them to address them so they have more time and energy to contribute to their work? Great managers don’t simply care about their employee’s productivity, they care about their employees.

Give Your Employees Access to the Best Resources. All workers these days are part of larger teams – whether formal or informal. Their ability to quickly uncover and use other resources inside or outside of their organizations heavily influences their day-to-day team performance. Managers should be aware of relevant networks to foster broad capabilities in their people. Accelerated learning is a fundamental requirement for success today. Skill requirements and competitive challenges come and go at an ever increasing rate. Remarkable employees are sponges that want to soak up knowledge.

Which avenues do you foster and support for your employees’ learning?

  • Virtual learning and teaching
  • Stretch assignments and projects
  • Coaching from mentors or SMEs
  • Conferences and symposiums
  • Shadow assignments
  • Language school or courses

What do you do to foster and accelerate learning?

Anticipate Future Requirements. Remarkable managers anticipate and lead others in the organization. They study the trends in their industry, their organizations, key professions and technology. They identify and foster innovations for the future. They press for strategies and actions that address coming changes. They frequently discuss these trends and strategies with their employees. Together they brainstorm new projects, solutions, products or jobs that will address future changes.

  • Have you specified areas for research and study that will make your organization more competitive?
  • Do you have regular discussions of trends employees see and ways to address them?
  • Are you talking about how better to differentiate your organization’s products and services from the competition?
  • Are your employees aware of how their jobsl may change in the future?

Remarkable managers understand the current and future strategic interests of their organizations and recognize the talent and skills that will be needed in the next 2-5 years. They need to measure and compare employee goals and aspirations against both current and future organizational needs and strategies.

Clarify Expectations and Foster Autonomy. Most adults want autonomy. The best managers have high expectations for their employees and set clear boundaries about what's acceptable and what's not. Remarkable managers allow employees to spread their wings and do not micromanage. Great managers empower employees to work on their own and encourage and support people to grow into those expectations.

  • Do you encourage your employees to work when and where they achieve the greatest results?
  • Do you foster telecommuting, virtual meetings, virtual teams to reduce travel, stress and wasted time and energy?
  • Do you put your attention on results achieved and contributions made rather than when and how employees achieved them?
  • Do you trust your employees to do what’s needed to achieve results and get out of their way?

Remarkable managers encourage, praise and reward workers who meet and exceed expectations. They trust that clear expectations and goals drive performance and do not micromanage.

Promote an Environment of Creativity and Achievement. A great manager creates an environment for smart people to excel. When workers are achieving and being creative, they will walk through the company facility and marvel at amazing things happening all around them. They appreciate the accomplishments of their fellow associates.

  • Do you take the time to explain changes or new approaches?
  • Do you create regular opportunities for employees to appreciate what others are achieving through Dashboards or group check-ins?
  • Do you frequently ask for ideas and recommendations from your staff? Privately and publicly?

These actions result in a kind of team performance and spirit that makes the impossible possible daily. Great managers believe their people work with them not for them. They enable and empower employees through celebrating individual and group achievements. They believe that “empowerment” comes from within, and has more to do with self-motivation and innate talent than with the acceptance of authority. They know empowerment leads to creativity and innovation.

Remarkable managers live or fall by these ideas. They embrace some of the best management policies. See what will happen if you practice them regularly.

This article reveals that ideas about management practices are not static. Managers as well as employees need to continually reinvent themselves and their jobs. Remarkable managers embrace the strategies discussed in this article. Managers who are reinventing themselves will attract employees who do the same.

1. Thomas L. Friedman, “The Startup of You,” New York Times, July 12, 2011

2. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, “First, Break All the Rules, What the Worlds’ Greatest Managers Do Differently,” Simon & Schuster, 1999, 271 pp.

About the Author
Caela Farren, Ph. D.
, is President of MasteryWorks, Inc., - a leading Career Development consulting organization offering innovative solutions to large and mid-size companies, including Sony, Northrop Grumman, Bayer, Lockheed-Martin and Capitol One. MasteryWorks provides enterprise web portals, training, consulting, and an assessment framework for employees and managers. For more than thirty years, Dr. Farren has been a passionate leader around complex issues redefining the workplace. She envisioned the current workplace climate more than a dozen years ago, when she published a cornerstone compendium on career selection, “Who is Running Your Career: Creating Stable Work in Unstable Times” (Bard Press, 1997). Through MasteryWorks, Inc., she oversees solutions that create the foundation for impact-filled “career conversations” - centered on increased contribution, performance, and fit. Her strategic approach consistently delivers on employee engagement and retention goals for her clients. Visit or contact Tom Karl, Executive Vice President for more information - or (703) 256-5712.

MasteryWorks, Inc.
2230 George C Marshall Drive, Suite 122 Falls Church, Virginia 22043 USA 800-229-5712