Managers Perform Through Others

In July 2012, newspapers around the world reported that a football coach had been fired. Normally, firing the coach of a team ranked eighth out of twelve in the league of the Gulf Emirate of Dubai wouldn’t make international news. However, in this case the coach of Al Wasl was no less than Argentine football legend Diego Armando Maradona, one of the best players in the history of the game. It was not for fi nancial reasons that the club had decided to dismiss the former “Player of the Century,” but because it was “in need of a better coach.” Sadly, this scenario was already a familiar one for Maradona. Two years earlier, he had to leave his post as Argentina’s national coach after Germany knocked his team out of the World Cup in a clear 4-0 victory.

Many people become managers because of their exceptional performance in specialist, non-managerial functions. They get promoted and are suddenly responsible not only for their own work, but also for how other people perform. This is not an easy transition because they need a whole new set of skills and attitudes to become eff ective managers. The best player will not necessarily become the best coach.

It can come as a surprise to many people who enter into a managerial role for the first time that their new role not only differs considerably from their prior role as experts, but also from what they expected about what it means to be a manager. Many people believe that a manager is a person “in control,” someone who devises a grand plan, tells others what to do, sets up organizational structures and processes, and then checks whether the planned outcomes have been achieved. In reality, managers are often much less in control of their work than people in the role of expert. Indeed, they are exposed to a whole range of uncontrollable external infl uences and are strongly dependent on others for getting things done. On their own, managers are worthless. After all, if there was no one and nothing to manage, the role would be superfl uous. Managers are needed, however, in all types of organizations, whenever people are working together in an institutionalized environment in order to pursue a shared purpose. They add value when their managerial skills can help a group of people to become more eff ective in achieving a collective goal.

“One thing is crystal clear: management is hard and is getting harder,” wrote Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill and her co-author Kent Lineback in their book Being the Boss. Being a manager is definitely a challenging job. Managers carry overall responsibility for the performance and development of an organization or part of an organization.

Because an organization is a group of people who together try to achieve collective goals in a structured way, managers need to rely on others to fulfill their own responsibility. In doing so, managers have to deal with three levels of complexity:

Managers work with a variety of people who all bring their own thoughts, feelings, and often conflicting interests to work. People do not just follow managerial directives - they autonomously decide what to do and what not to do.

Managers need to create and develop organizations, which are complex webs of relationships, structures, systems, routines, and cultures. A change to any element in this interrelated system will have repercussions elsewhere in the system. Simple, isolated cause–effect relations rarely exist.

Managers must align their organizations to the wider world around them. They need to take care of customers’ needs, react to competitors’ moves, and adapt to significant changes in the nearer (micro) and wider (macro) environments.

Managers cannot do everything on their own - they perform through others. In other words, they need to persuade people to perform activities and accomplish tasks that contribute to implementing their agenda.