Think You Know How to Manage Right? Check in with David C. Baker

Several weeks ago, David C. Baker, accomplished management consultant, speaker, and author, asked if I would consider reading and commenting on his already successful book, Managing Right for the First Time. I didn’t know David but his title intrigued me, so I eagerly said “yes.” The book arrived in the mail and I was hooked. 

Manager—It’s a title with a certain lure, an aura of importance, a marker that we’ve “gotten somewhere.” Careers often feel more solid when we’ve become manager of something. 

Then we look around at the managers in our world and say, “Is that the role I really want? Would I operate like that? Is that what I think the job should be?” 

What’s the deal? 

Every job is a business deal with your employer. That means you need to understand what’s expected from a title like manager before you commit. 

Unfortunately, managers who get off on the wrong foot from the get-go will likely compound their missteps throughout their managerial careers, until they come to an end. 

David C. Baker in his book, Managing Right for the First Time, does something wonderful: He exposes the realities about how the manager role is played out in business settings. He answers my favorite question: “What’s really going on here?” 

During his career Baker worked closely with over 600 companies and interviewed more than 10,000 employees to identify the core principles and behaviors that contribute to managing right from the start. 

He starts with a clean definition: Being a manager means “…taking responsibility for the performance and output of another employee in a business setting.” 

Sounds simple enough until you face his next insight: 

…management is not natural, and there are no “natural born” managers. Good management comes primarily from who you are as a person….  

Looking within is a serious first step. For some reason, you want to think that you’ll be ready for the job when it comes your way. Baker points out that you’ll likely be a good manager “if you’ve made the right choices as you’ve responded to the circumstances you’ve encountered…” throughout your life. 

There’s an echo here of a theme I’ve written on before: Your life is your business. There’s truth in the notion that the more good life and career choices we make, the better prepared we’ll be to manage situations that affect others. 

So, you’ve got the job! 

Baker gives fascinating insights into what your selection as a manager can mean. 

His first scenario is this: “…if you’ve been selected for management by a good manager, you can take solace in the fact that he or she sees something in you that you may not even see in yourself.” 

The bad news scenarios are these: a.) you’re promoted because there was no one else or b.) a bad manager selected you. Both of these start you off on shaky ground. It doesn’t mean you won’t succeed, but it does mean that you have to prove that you were the best choice. You’ll need to keep your political wits about you. 

Beware of bait and switch 

Baker makes a strong point that: “There’s no official management without power.” 

Oftentimes we’ll see managers in name only—all title but no authority. 

Baker writes: 

The essence of management certainly isn’t about…wielded power. It’s more about influence, which in itself is power, but it’s more the ability to instill in people a legitimate desire to follow your leadership.

 That said, he adds that you really aren’t a manager in the truest sense of the word unless: 

  • You’re hiring the people you manage
  • Making decisions about their compensation
  • Giving their performance reviews
  • Have the authority to dismiss someone—even if you have to get another’s approval 

He makes it plain: “If these things aren’t true of your new role, you ain’t managing, baby.” 

Dig in 

“Managing right” means taking on the full scope of the manager’s role. In his book, Baker covers it all from managing your boss to orienting employees (some really good ideas there); from creating a positive culture to work/life balance.

He wrote his book as a field guide and it’s all that and more. Nothing beats a book of straight-talk, that puts managing in plain terms. This one’s a winner.

Bosses Who Don’t Get It | Taking Issue

Bad bosses are water cooler fodder. One story begets another until those bosses become mythic, the Cyclopes of the work place. Oh, what we’d give for a chance to poke that lonely eye! 

To be boss and not to boss: That is the issue.  

Ah, there really is something in a name. When you’re a supervisor, you are the boss. That means you’re expected to make decisions and exercise authority which includes “giving orders” and controlling things. Webster says so.

 Bosses who don’t “get it” believe that employees can’t or won’t get the work done right unless the boss controls things by: 

  • Checking and double-checking the work
  • Questioning every decision and process step
  • Criticizing and/or blocking individual initiative
  • Withholding praise or acknowledgement of good work
  • Catching and broadcasting errors
  • Blaming unforeseen issues on others
  • Distrusting progress reports and questioning competency
  • Finding a way to always be right and making others wrong 

I’ve had a few bad bosses and they really irked me. But one turned me into a banshee. Here’s how he treated me: 

  • While I was proposing a program initiative, he’s lean back in his chair, hands behind his head, and smirk at me. Then he’d send me off with no direction. 
  • He would question every detail of my written proposals that he had barely scanned. Result: Deferred action. 
  • His answer was “no” to every documented request to reward the good performance of my employees. 
  • Most of his comments to me were made to my chest. He must have thought I was wearing amplifiers!  

I wasn’t his only irate direct report. There were men too. (They didn’t have amps of interest, however.) He’d direct them to change calculations to make data look better, block their initiatives, and steal the spotlight. In time his “bad boss” brand did him in. 

Smart bosses don’t boss. They build. 

Recently, I got a surprise Facebook message from a woman who’d worked for me 15 years ago, now retired. Her note said, “You were the BEST boss I ever had,” then proceeded to say why. 

As a boss I always thought about myself more as a teacher. That note made me think about praise I’d gotten from other employees along the way. This is what happened with a few: 

1.) A talented, high energy woman, newly added to my staff, took no prisoners when it came to getting work done. This had been her style for a decade and as a result she’d “put off” a lot of people. I laid this out to her and the effect it was having on her career. She spent most of that meeting sobbing. We ended with a “fix it” strategy and my commitment mentor her. It worked. 

2.) I hired a woman, fresh out of college, to take full responsibility for outfitting and driving a mobile marketing exhibit throughout a 10,000 square mile region. It was a 32 foot trailer connected to a one ton pick up. There were plenty of doubters but not me. I gave her resources, support, and confidence. She turned those naysayers into admirers. 

3.) A 19-year-old girl joined my work group as a temporary steno. She was bright and spunky with no direction for her life. She was very close to making career moves that would put her in a black hole. I talked to her at length about her interests and, in time, she enrolled in college. She’s now a CPA and senior manager in a Fortune 500.

 Good bosses make people better. That’s what makes businesses thrive. 

When we’re the boss, our employees are our customers. Our job is to serve them. That means providing clear direction, development for growth, and support so they can make decisions with confidence. 

Business fitness comes from attracting a following, people who hold you in esteem for what you can do and the standards you uphold. The good boss builds a contingent of followers that make the right things happen. Be good! 

Have you worked for a “bad boss” who has left a lasting impression? What was his/her “fatal flaw?” What did you do to cope?