But if you had asked me what I thought a manager's job was before I started, here's what I would have said.
A MANAGER'S JOB IS TO...
* have meetings with reports to help them solve their problems,
* share feedback about what is or isn't going well, and
* figure out who should be promoted and who should be fired.
Fast-forward three years. Having done the job now, I'm a bit wiser.
My revised answer would look like the following.
A MANAGER'S JOB IS TO . . .
* build a team that works well together,
* support members in reaching their career goals, and
* create processes to get work done smoothly and efficiently.
As you can see, my answers evolved from basic, day-to-day activities (having meetings and giving feedback) to longer-term goals (building teams and supporting career growth). The new answers sound smarter and more grown-up. Go, me!
Except...they're still not quite right. You might be thinking, Well, what's wrong with these answers? Great managers certainly do all the things on both lists.
True, but the problem is that these answers are still an assortment of activities. If I asked you, "What is the job of a soccer player?" would you say that it's to attend practices, pass the ball to their teammates, and attempt to score goals?
No, of course not. You'd tell me why those activities matter in the first place. You'd say, "The job of a soccer player is to win games."
So what is the job of a manager? Without understanding this deeply, it's hard to know how to be good at it.
That's what this first chapter is about.
THE ONE-LINE DEFINITION OF A MANAGER'S JOB
Imagine that you decide to set up a lemonade stand because you love lemonade and think it could be a great business.
In the beginning, what you need to do seems pretty clear. You go to the store and get yourself a knapsack full of lemons. You juice those lemons, dump in a generous helping of sugar, and add water. You get a folding table and a lounge chair, a pitcher, a cooler, and some cups.
You decorate a lovely chalk sign announcing your delicious offering (and competitive pricing!), and then, near a busy intersection, you set up shop and cheerfully ask if any passersby are thirsty.
It's simple when it's just you. It's your hands that squeezed the lemons, your feet that trudged from the store to the kitchen to your stand, your arms that lugged the pitcher and cooler. If the chalkboard handwriting looks sloppy, that's on you. If your lemonade is too sweet or sour, you have only yourself to blame. Nothing will get done unless you choose to do it.
But great news! Beyoncé drops an album and suddenly everyone is obsessed with lemonade! As soon as you sell a glass, ten other people are crowded around your stand, eager for a gulp of that refreshing, nostalgic beverage. You can't keep up with demand, so you decide to enlist the help of your neighbors Henry and Eliza. You'll pay them each a fair wage, and in exchange, they'll come work for you.
Congrats! You are now a manager!
"Duh," you say. "I hired them and I'm paying them money. I'm the CEO, the head honcho, the boss. Of course I'm a manager."
Actually, you'd be a manager even if you didn't hire them or pay them. The management aspect has nothing to do with employment status and everything to do with the fact that you are no longer trying to get something done by yourself.
With three pairs of hands and feet, you can make and sell lemonade so much faster. One of you can mix the drink while another collects payment. You can rotate shifts and keep the stand open for more hours. You might even have time to shop around for cheaper ingredients.
At the same time, you're giving up some level of control. You won't get to make every decision anymore. When things go badly, it might not be because of anything you did. If Eliza forgets to add the sugar, you'll get a lot of puckered, unhappy customers. If Henry's scowl intimidates others, you'll get fewer people stopping for a drink.
You felt the trade-offs were worth it. Why? Because your goal is the same as when you started: You love lemonade and think it could be a great business. You believe more people should experience the wonders of your favorite drink, and with Eliza and Henry on board, you feel you're more likely to succeed.
This is the crux of management: It is the belief that a team of people can achieve more than a single person going it alone. It is the realization that you don't have to do everything yourself, be the best at everything yourself, or even know how to do everything yourself.
Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.
It's from this simple definition that everything else flows.
HOW DO YOU TELL A GREAT MANAGER FROM AN AVERAGE MANAGER?
I used to think judging whether a manager was great was like judging whether a fifteen-year-old was qualified to drive. There would be a series of tests, and each successful demonstration would earn a satisfying check. Are they well regarded by other people? Can they solve big, strategic problems? Do they give killer presentations? Can they knock out twenty important tasks in a day? Reply to emails while waiting in line for coffee? Defuse a tense situation? Always be closing? Etc., etc.
These are all wonderful qualities to have in a manager, to be sure, and we'll discuss many of them later on, but the litmus test of whether or not a manager is excelling doesn't need to be so complex.
If the job is defined as getting better outcomes from a group of people working together, then a great manager's team will consistently achieve great outcomes.
This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardcover edition.