This excerpt from How Dare You Manage? Seven Principles to Close the CEO Skill Gap by Nick Forrest is published with permission from BPS Books and Nick Forrest. Copyright 2013.
I believe management can recapture its mission as a noble profession that enables the economy, but only if it is treated as a craft.
Crafts are more than ways to earn income. As the workplace ethnographer Randy Hodson points out, they are lifetime commitments in which the work itself is intrinsically enjoyable and becomes an integral part of how the practitioners of the crafts see themselves.
In medieval Europe, master craftsmen of particular professions organized into guilds. The guilds promoted the lifelong pursuit of mastery. To be elected to the guild as a master craftsman, aspirants had to pass through learning steps as apprentices progressing to journeymen, demonstrating discipline and a level of capability in the skills, knowledge and wisdom of the profession. Even when they had reached the apogee of their profession, these masters continued to hone their ability, as well as to expand and perfect their understanding of the craft.
Real CEO management is a craft, a vocation, a life’s calling. At its very best, CEO management is even spiritual, for it unlocks the potential of people to work together, enabling them to create and achieve things they never dreamed possible. The craft of executive management is a highly effective means to get consistent, high productivity out of large groups of individuals, higher than they can achieve singly or even in small groups. Management at the CEO level is a messy business that requires self-sacrifice and humility in the service of others. Those who get it right can build dynamic, productive organizations that achieve great results through highly engaged employees.
The men and women who practice the craft of CEO management know they are involved not in “leadership over management” but in “managerial leadership.” …
So where does all this leave you?
As the chief executive of a corporation or head of a division in charge of more than 250+ employees, you represent probably the top .5 per cent of the management profession. Being a member of this tiny group makes you special, if not unique. You now represent the profession of management and carry huge accountability and social responsibility. You have created your own company or have been entrusted with significant resources, including a significant number of employees, and are challenged to maximize the productivity of these resources in the pursuit of a strategy.
The influence of your actions goes far beyond your shareholders and customers. As a result of building a successful company, you affect the well-being and confidence of your employees. This in turn affects their families and the communities they live in, at times profoundly. Unshackling the capability of the employees to do their best work transformed people at home. Like the ripple caused by a stone dropped into a pond, the success of your company sends benefits out into the community, sometimes in ways you could not have imagined.
You have the opportunity to create something prosperous for your shareholders and beneficial to the community in which your company works. How have you been prepared to do this? How do you convert a detached, disengaged workforce into one that is highly engaged, innovative, proprietorial, effective and efficient in whatever work it has to accomplish, one that no longer says, “Thank God it’s Friday!” but “I can’t wait for Monday!”
Pick a Model – but Choose Wisely
A message you will encounter throughout this book is that employees require consistency and clarity in what they are expected to do. CEOs who do not practice the craft of management fall into the trap of implementing haphazard initiatives that are not thought through and integrated into the overall organization’s structure and management and accountability processes. They kick these initiatives off with great fanfare and then watch them atrophy and die because the organization’s systems are unable to support them.
You have to select the model with which you will manage. Choose one methodology, believe in it, then practice and develop deep expertise in it. Work with it for the rest of your life. But be careful. You need to choose something beyond the latest management fad, lest the model you choose makes you look like all of the other inept CEOs who perpetrate ill-considered processes and policies on their employees.
Your model should allow you and your managers to talk about the profession of management proudly and cogently. Are you able to do this? I am sure you can talk about your work, but can you frame your work clearly, referencing a set of organizational and management methodologies and practices? You need to understand the “whole organizational system” and the set of CEO management principles required to manage it.
Yes, you are distracted by a myriad of legitimate issues: your board, investors, regulators, clients, strategy and quarterly results – the cries for your attention are endless. But you can never afford to lose sight of your long-term intent to create the best organization you possibly can to deliver great results.
A well-run company is a hierarchy of capability. The person at the top of the organization – you! – should have the highest capability and skills, and so be able to add value to the work of everyone else in your organization. Your challenge is to manage. You must become the organization’s manager, able to assess and tend to your organization’s stresses and strains, rightly judging the load your organization can bear without collapsing. You need to know the craft of CEO management.