The True Work of Management

What do you think differentiates successful managers from unsuccessful ones? Meaning, what is the one most important thing a manager can do and therefore should spend his time doing?

If you knew of John Kotter's experiment following several general managers, which Herminia Ibarra mentions in her book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, you'd be surprised.

Apparently successful managers leave time in their schedules to walk around, have conversations, and just meander. These brief and apparently random meetings allow them to—

  • deepen relationships, 
  • widen their networks, 
  • ask questions to understand trends and issues,
  • reinforce priorities,
  • make deals,
  • get different perspectives.

The unsuccessful managers, on the other hand, had schedules fully booked with meetings, presentations, and reports. 

This definition of manager is more akin to what I consider a leader: not the specialist focused on the day-to-day operations but the generalist looking to broaden his and his team's resources and opportunities. And this of course presupposes that the manager/leader has a good team to do the day-to-day work.

Regardless of the definition and label, the point Herminia makes is that if you want to be successful and considered for further promotion, you cannot just spend your time doing the work that got you to this point: you must expand your horizons and networks. She calls this "outsight" (as opposed to insight).

Have you seen this at work? Who is the hub of information in your group and how do people treat him/her?


Karina is VP of Operations and HR at 24/7 Teach.

A version of this was originally posted on Business Common Sense blog.

Disclosure: IndieBound affiliate link included.