90 minutes of intense soccer action in a world Cup game – a player is fouled, the team members are up in arms. One individual runs up to the center of the commotion – flashes a few yellow cards and directs the players back to their positions – the referee has just performed his job as a manager!

The house is short on groceries – the paycheck is still two days away. She pulls together a quick meal out of the frozen vegetables she has in the refrigerator for this kind of a contingency. The mother has just performed her job as a manager!

Managers – they thrive in execution. They make things happen. While leaders dream up a vision of the future, managers help realize the vision and build the new future.

Managers are accountable for results. Leaders thrive in disruption. They get us away from status quo; managers help stabilize the disruption to get us to a new status quo while maneuvering through constraints.

Manager

Successful management entails 3 key aspects:

  1. Understanding the environment/team – Understanding the environment provides an insight into the prevalent opportunities and risks. Understanding the team provides an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the team members individually and collectively. Managers have to tailor their implementation strategy to the environment and the available resources. Implementation plans and techniques cannot be cloned across teams and environments. Ferdinand De Lesseps successfully built the Suez Canal as an Ocean level canal, but failed miserably with Panama Canal when he tried using the same implementation approach. The Panama Canal was finally built as a combination of lake and ocean level by William Gorgas. (Read: Panama Canal Timeline)
  2. Communication: You can never communicate enough – Communication is key to a successful implementation. Managers work with teams and it is important that every member on the team understands their role towards achievement of the final goal. Managers have to continuously monitor and evaluate progress to ensure the team is on the right track for a successful implementation. Communication is a 2-way street. Managers have to communicate and also receive feedback from the team. Feedback ensures that the team has understood the goal and both the manager and the team are on the same page. A disconnect between the initiator and recipient of a communication can lead to massive consequences – the Berlin Wall apparently collapsed prematurely due to a massive miscommunication.
  3. Execution: Management is all about execution and results. A successful execution is built upon the foundation of a strong understanding of the environment/team and a clear and solid communication channel.In Soccer, a successful strike at the opponent’s goal is usually accomplished after a series of moves that entail a combination of forward push and retreat. The implementation cycle is where reality comes head to head with perception/assumptions. The manager needs to closely monitor progress and be ready to fine-tune the implementation to ensure achievement of the end-goal stays on track. Fine tuning can mean re-assigning team members based on the strengths and weaknesses they have exhibited or taking a detour to avoid an oncoming obstacle.

Gandhi – managing the implementation of India’s Independence:

Leaders design the future; managers implement it.

The vision of an independent India, free of British occupation was designed by Lokmanya Tilak in the early 1900s, but India had to wait for Gandhi the manager to take the vision through to implementation.

Gandhi excelled as a manager on all 3 fronts:

Understanding his team and environment: Soon after landing in India from South Africa, Gandhi undertook a tour of India to acclimatize himself with the social and economic structure of the country. He witnessed a huge population of 350 million –  economically impoverished and socially suppressed (Watch: Gandhi tours India) under the British. Gandhi realized that the impoverishment was rife for a revolt, and the suppression could be channeled productively into non-cooperation.

Communicating the plan: In an era where the word of mouth was the most effective mode of communication, Gandhi was able to communicate his plan effectively across to about a quarter million Indians. His tactic? Shock and awe.His execution plan entailed non-cooperation and non-violence and he started his campaign for non-cooperation with a message of boycotting foreign goods. He mass communicated this via a dramatic burning of English garments under the very eyes of British cops. This set the tone for the non-cooperation movement. Word spread like wildfire and soon all of India was creating bonfires of English goods.

Executing the plan: Gandhi’s brilliant plan entailed having the entire population of India refuse to co-operate with the British. He indicated this in his TV interview with “100,000 Englishmen cannot control 350 million Indians if the Indians refuse to co-operate”

Gandhi monitored the progress of the movement closely and did not hesitate to pause and fine tune the execution. During the non-cooperation movement when a group of protestors turned violent and set a police station on fire killing 23 policemen (the Chauri Chaura incident), Gandhi immediately called off the non-co-operation movement and went on a five day fast to protest the bloodshed, holding himself personally responsible for not communicating the message of non-violence effectively. News of his fast and its impact on his health spread like wildfire and effectively delivered the message to his anxious followers about the importance of non-violence in the freedom movement.

A leader will lead the horse to water, but the manager will make it drink. Leaders inspire (and pull us out of our inertia of complacency) and managers motivate (to deliver results)

Pope Francis: Fixing a dream gone sour:

One of the most effective managers in recent times, Pope Francis has been busy reshaping the Vatican. Pope Francis too has excelled on all 3 fronts as a manager:

Understanding his team and environment: As an insider, Pope Francis had a head start on this front. He did not need time to understand his team and the environment. He was well aware of the politics within the Vatican and probably had a semi-operational game plan in mind to get the Vatican vibrant and functional. All he needed was a handover of the leadership baton.

Communicating change: “Who am I to judge?” – an opening remark that echoed across the globe. Like Gandhi, Pope Francis too is a follower of the shock and awe technique. However, instead of laying out a complete agenda for the change, he has shared his intentions one topic at a time – shaking the thinking of his followers, waiting for it to get absorbed and then moving over to a different topic to shaking it once again.

Implementing the change: Whereas Gandhi sought to empower 350 million Indians to drive the British away, Pope Francis has sought to empower his leadership team to influence change in the Vatican. And the first step in empowering the leadership was to change the leadership itself. Hence the election of a new set of cardinals – empowered with a fresh agenda, to enforce change.

Great managers like Gandhi and the Pope do not need to be far and apart. We come across great managers in our everyday lives – managers who have to be effective because their role demands. Some of these roles are:

  1. The mother – the mother performs the job of 3 managers simultaneously – the finance Manager, the inventory manager and the human resource manager. Most of the skills come naturally to the mom – and most of the execution is carried out without any tools. The most challenging piece being a majority of her team members (the children) are a huge management challenge. Among all professions/roles, the mother undoubtedly is the most unique example of an outstanding job as a manager.
  2. Sports referees/umpires – especially in fast games like Soccer and Basketball, the referees rely on manual and tech tools to deliver the right decision. They have to maintain order in chaos to ensure a fair game. During intense moments, tempers and egos run high and test the management skills of the referees to the fullest.

What other characteristics in your opinion are also key to successful management?

What other roles demand effective management skills?

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