Jul 25, 2013

    What makes one a good manager

    Sir Andrew Likierman, dean of the London Business School (LBS), tells The New York Times why you shouldn't be too quick to judge leaders or people in general.

    What do you think makes a successful leader?

    Success is about outcomes, not style. It's about fulfilling stated objectives and, in doing so, comparing favourably to peers.

    Take Julius Caesar, who was successful both militarily and administratively, while Napoleon was successful administratively but not militarily, and Hitler was a failure in both.

    But I think serving leaders are difficult to assess, because you have to wait for outcomes and, often, there are no comparisons (available).

    So successful leaders are people who are seen - not just immediately, but in the long term - as those who have achieved what they set out to do.

    How do you think you would score?

    I have set out to say this is what I'm seeking to do, but I wish to be judged not now, perhaps not even when I finish, but a few years after that.

    Too often, leaders are seen as people who need to be judged on the actions they take, rather than on what they achieve. They are also judged too early.

    In other words, if somebody looks good on paper (or in terms of) how they run a business at this moment, then that's fine, but a lot of what is being achieved at the moment at LBS, for example, is because of what my predecessors did.

    What leadership lessons have you learnt over the years?

    In some cases, I made judgments that weren't right. I put my trust in individuals who didn't turn out to be trustworthy and, in some cases, I felt I didn't put enough trust in some people who would have deserved it.

    Why? What went wrong?

    We tend to react instinctively when we meet people. Some people are better at portraying themselves as trustworthy, and others are more reticent or, perhaps, not as good at expressing themselves.

    Only over time does one see the better and the worse sides of each person. I hope I have become better at looking past that initial judgment, but the ability to choose people well and to think carefully about them in relation to the organisation seems to be something that differentiates good and bad managers. I spend a lot of time thinking about that.

    What have you found out about it so far? Any tips?

    My wife, who is a psychotherapist, said it's about listening very carefully to what people say. The (situation) in many job interviews is that the interviewer talks a lot.

    He...spends a lot of time thinking about formulating the next question, rather than observing the way the other person expresses things and talks about issues. It's not just about making sure that...the right answers (are given). So my tip would be to listen, and to listen carefully.

    What other skills does a good leader need?

    Leaders in any organisation face choices every day... That is something where the judgment of a leader is crucial, and that's why you probably need somebody to be around for a little while.

    As critical as taking an opportunity is realising that you need to do something differently.

    I am proud that, in my first leadership role, even though there was no pressure to change, I told (the firm's staff) that we have to change because we're not doing it well enough. The assumption that you can somehow reach a plateau...of perfection is a complete illusion. Organisations need to change all the time.

    They need to carefully pace the level of change, but leaders need to ensure that they're not missing the fact that the world is changing around them.

    What else is important for good leadership?

    It's important that you bring out the best in the people you manage. I learnt a great deal about this from my colleagues.

    For example, LBS' professor for organisational behaviour, Rob Goffee, supports the notion that leaders should be authentic and be themselves. I find that extremely useful.

    People respond much better to leaders who are open and behave like themselves, rather than trying to be what they imagine a leader should be like. We are imperfect beings, and I hope people feel that, if I'm not doing something correctly, they have the chance to contradict it.