What makes a good Manager?

It’s one of those questions that comes up quite a lot.

What makes a good manager?

Of course it can mean different things to different people, but these are some thoughts I had on the subject.

A first day experience

Many moons ago I had my first day in my first job after graduating from college. Starchy collars and ties all round in the corporate suit world. Walking tall in my best suit I entered a large manufacturing facility and after the usual first day checks eventually I hit my desk. I was in mainframe Technical Support. Still wet behind the ears but the Technical Support team was the place to be back then.

A tap came on my shoulder. It wasn’t a team member. It wasn’t my boss. It was my boss’s boss. “Holy crap!”, this guy was literally God in the department if he said “No” it didn’t happen.

“Come with me, the National Director wants to see you in my office.”

With that single sentence, my sphincter started twitching. I hadn’t been there long enough to do anything wrong. Had I parked in the guy’s bay in the car park? I put my suit jacket back on and buttoned it, quickly flicking a piece of fluff off my right sleeve.

Technical Support was at the far end of the department from God’s office. I felt like I was doing the walk of shame through the department as the eyes made contact with mine, then quickly ducked down behind their respective screens.

By the time I got to God’s office I was terrified.

“Ah right. Sit down right there!” this towering guy in a dark blue pin-stripe suit ordered me. No introductions. I was now in the presence of the guy who God called God. ‘I’m done for. I won’t even get to visit the canteen at lunchtime’ I thought.

So God’s God sat opposite me at the table and said, “Right. I’m going to tell you how we do business here. I don’t give a shit how other people do business. This is how we do business.”

I was mortified. I had gone through a sweary period before graduating and had been given stern warnings from family about moderating my language in the workplace.

God’s God went through the production and business flows and didn’t seem to draw breath for fifteen minutes.

He slapped the table with the flat of his hand and said the immortal line, “Right! Any questions?” As his hand made contact with the wood I jumped at the sound.

I paused for only a second but it seemed like a lifetime.

“This section here doesn’t seem to make sense” I said. I might as well tell the truth and get hung for a sheep as a lamb I thought.

“Are you telling me I’m talking rubbish?” God’s God asked aggressively.

I paused once more, “No. I am saying it doesn’t make sense to me. It goes around the houses when you could just go from that point there, to that point.”

I had barely finished speaking when God’s God scooped up the paper showing the production flow, screwed up into a ball and threw it against the wall.

“Excellent. You can come back tomorrow” God’s God told me with a huge grin on his face. “Always tell me the truth. Even if you think it is not what I want to hear. If you do that, I promise I will always back you up in public and only ever bollock you in private. If you ever screw up, I need to be the first to know so we can put things right quickly. Don’t ever shy away from telling the truth.”

With that I noticed God was now grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

I had made it.

I was in.

That man always stuck to his word. He was a rough diamond, but his people were the best people in the world. He would tell us that. He would tell his bosses that. More importantly he would tell his bosses that in front of us.

He never managed us. He facilitated. He fought the political battles that inevitably crop up in a multi-national corporation so we didn’t have to.

If he wanted us in at 3am on a Sunday morning, we would have been there and not even questioned why, such were his inspirational leadership skills.

I only hope he knew how well respected he was because I personally never got the chance to tell him.


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