The Relentless Pursuit of Having Nothing To Do

I got involved in a conversation recently about what the point management is and what makes a good manager. That this conversation took place at all was something of a worry. It is one of those stories that will have to wait for a few years so as to protect the guilty.

I asked a few people that I trust for their perspectives on the important skills and character traits of managers. Someone insisted it was, “all about”, some fad or other, which of course it isnt’t.  Another, rightly, gently told me off for making silly lists and pigeon holing people at the expense of variety, my current favourite theme.  She was right, and this was born out in the range of responses. While there was some overlap, each varied considerably.

Anyway, while we can make and debate such lists, I’ve concluded that managers who are always trying to work themselves out of a job, rather than render themselves indespensible are the best ones, at least in rapidly changing environments.  

I might even be so bold as to say that good management is the relentless pursuit of having nothing to do, while getting a lot done and getting it done well. A good manager takes this gamble in the certain kowledge that they will probably never get there and that whenever they get close they’ll be given other things to do anyway.

People like that also get to have interesting working lives and make a lot of friends in the process. I know a very few. I’m starting to wonder if the corporate world has forgotten that management is quite important.


8 thoughts on “The Relentless Pursuit of Having Nothing To Do

  1. I don’t think you can simply define a manager. It is more important to have the right manager in the right role. Johnny may well be a great manager for a routine job with a small team of well-trained staff, but he may not easily transfer to a role where, say, he has highly motivated and skilled staff whose demands are very different to those people in his previous team. Horses for courses…must be some truth in that old saying!

    • Hi,

      Given that this was nearly entitled, “It takes all sorts”, I can’t help but agree.

      I currently have two totally separate teams, each of which face totally different challenges and start from different places.

      What we do to improve in each context is very different.

      I end up having to have a personality transplant from one meeting to the next!

      By the way, I enjoyed the flowers post.


  2. According to the well known management guru, Terry Pratchett: Management is going to the meetings that no one else wants to.

  3. I was letting others comment before I responded for a change. I think there is some truth in what you say, and recent events are a good testament to that. I heard one footballer – who shall remain nameless – comment recently in the wake of England’s shambolic performance in Brazil that although the Manager works on preparing the team, once they’re actually on the pitch there’s very little more he can do. It’s simply down to the players at that point.

    I draw that analogy because management, particularly of senior teams, is often as Coach rather than Player-Coach. Granted, there are times when you do need to get closer but, if done right, you hire people of considerable experience that can do their individual disciplines rather better than you ever could. I totally subscribe to the idea that you should hire people smarter than you to work for you.

    So, in a sense, if you get this 100% right, your managers that you manage will execute the plans and strategies that you have put in place. Your management at that point is ensuring good progress, that they’ve not run off with the milkman, or spent all the money before you can say the words ‘Gantt Chart’. To me, the key to getting this absolutely right comes down more to leadership than management; two words that are so often mixed up in the workplace that we may as well throw in the word Svengali for good measure. Good leadership is largely intangible, but you sure as hell know you’ve got it when it’s there. Leadership defines and shapes how managers work cohesively, provides clear direction, strength, vision, passion and motivation. You can be a manager with nothing apparently to do, but you can never be a leader with nothing to do.

    Which brings me back to the start. I suspect our lacklustre performance at the World Cup comes down to a strong desire to manage (tactics, strategy etc) with a distinct lack of leadership.

    • The odd thing about leadership is that it creates a sense of safety, which we then use to take risks and generally go for it. That’s when you get the extra 20%, not of extra hours, but of core hours spent doing, creating and innovating rather than worrying, gossiping and playing safe; waiting for it to go bang on someone else’s desk while turning the handle.

  4. Gossip. Now there’s a word that in of itself, is probably responsible for more inefficiency, lack of productivity, reduced output and general malaise in the workplace than almost anything else.

    Gossip vs Leadership. Now there’s a topic for a blog post.

  5. Pingback: The Relentless Pursuit of Having Nothing To Do by Anthony Allinson | People Performance Potential

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