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.

Is There an Invisible Leader in You? | Examples from the Egyptian Protesters

Leadership is first about caring. That’s what the good leaders do. They care about us, the customers, the product, our community, and doing the right thing. 

Leadership is also about power, particularly the power to influence and create change. When leaders use power in an uncaring, self-serving way, we’re put off. 

Power is a byproduct of leadership.  

That’s because when we lead effectively, people follow. The more followers the greater our influence, impact, and leverage. Willing followers entrust their leaders with the power to do right things. 

A follower’s role, however, can change in a split second. 

Especially when crisis hits 

What do you do? Every day company crises are in the news:   

  • A building collapses from tons of snow on its roof
  • A disgruntled employee shoots his coworkers
  • The computer system crashes, cutting the company off from customers 

This is when rank and file employees rush forward to take charge. They assess the problem, organize a fix, lead people out of harms way, and mobilize resources.

It’s not the “big wigs” that do this. They’re likely in another building or simply too far removed from the situation to jump into the fray. This is when the “invisible leaders” show up. 

The origin of invisible leaders 

Situational, frontline leaders are everywhere. We’re focused on them now, in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Egypt, where peaceful anti-government protesters are seeking the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.   

This protest is considered a leaderless movement that came together through electronic communication. 

What we’re aware of but don’t see are invisible leaders who operate within the throngs of protesters.  Whoever they are, these everyday, caring leaders have stepped up to organize: 

  • Medically trained people to set up treatment units for the injured
  • Groups of people to form security check points to make sure no one comes into the square with a bomb
  • A communications office to keep protesters informed 

Then there were the ad hoc efforts from invisible leaders like: 

  • Butchers in Cairo who sell meat on credit until citizens can get back to work
  • Grocers who’ve slashed prices to help their customers pay for food and even delivered staples to those too afraid to leave their homes   

Other amazing things happened. Helen Kennedy from the Daily News (February 7, 2011) reported: 

“On Friday, the holy day for Islam, Christian protesters in Tahrir joined hands to form a protective cordon around their Muslim countrymen so they could pray in safety.

 Sunday, the Muslims returned the favor.”

Some caring invisible leader(s) organized that initiative.

Then there’s Wael Ghonim, a reluctant leader within the protest, made invisible for a while. As Joshua Norman writes in his NY Daily News article, Ghonim “was Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa when he was secretly taken by police and held in detention just after protests began.”

According to Norman, “While no official reason for his 12-day detention was given, Ghonim has admitted to being the administrator of the Facebook page ‘We Are All Khaled Said,’ dedicated to the memory of a 28-year-old Egyptian man beaten to death by the police….” He also used Twitter to help organize and energize the protesters.

If and when Mubarak would step down, the movement will need to surface visible, caring leaders that Egypt will follow.

Followers that make leaders and can also unmake them.

Great leaders make sacrifices for their followers even as they ask for sacrifices. They rely on invisible leaders and followers to be the backbone of the company or the cause.

Great leaders realize that their ability to lead effectively comes from us. When leaders forget that, they place the security of their positions at risk.

As you think about your work, ask yourself what would propel you to take the lead when the chips were down. You might surprise yourself.


Baffled by Office Politics? Read a Novel! | Demystifying Human Motivation

Maneuvering. Backbiting. Elbow rubbing. It’s the stuff of office intrigue, the tactics some colleagues and bosses use to increase their influence, gain power, and feather their own nest.

Office politics can go from benign to vicious. There’s nothing new about it, except perhaps each player’s ingenuity. There’s actually nothing wrong with it, unless, of course, it comes at our expense!

The plot thickens….

Where there is opportunity to get more, there are those who are eager to get it without concern for others in their path. It wouldn’t be called “office politics” if it weren’t about control and power. What’s mystifying about the characters in these workplace plots is what they’re really after and why.

The “why” factor is what baffles us, making it difficult to counter their maneuverings. Behavior on the surface is always driven from places we can’t see.

Our challenge is to protect ourselves from being damaged or exploited by the office politics playing out around us. That means we need to:

  • Stay alert to what’s going on
  • Avoid being drawn into the games
  • Build alliances with the straight-shooters
  • Learn how to counteract the negatives 

Office politics are like a soap opera episode and you’re in it.

Read between the lines. 

We need to connect the dots in order to understand what’s going on around us. The motivations behind office politics are as diverse as the forms they take like:

  • Subversion—A desire to see someone dethroned
  • Resistance—An effort to derail unwanted change
  • Jealousy/Envy—A selfish obsession to undercut a co-worker’s brand
  • Competitiveness—A compulsion to out-perform coworkers at all costs
  • Resentment—Push-back against authority figures
  • Intimidation—Efforts to protect their position and keep others in their place 

The complex motivations that propel office politics mean that we need to be smart, intuitive, and analytical so we understand them before we take action.

On a high level, here’s a plan:

  • Gather your observations and size up the situation
  • Examine the behavior of others beyond what’s on the surface
  • Figure out what’s stoking those behaviors and the effects to date
  • Fight against your own naiveté. (Everyone isn’t nice like you!)
  • Track what’s going on and then plan your strategy. 

No one teaches you how to read and interpret the “goings on” of people at work. We’re all left to our own devices on that score and sometimes we get the worst of it.

Novels provide clues. 

Fiction writers get us into the heads and hearts of people through the characters they create by placing them in high conflict situations. These characters showcase the full range of human motivation, just like the behaviors you may see at work.

I was an English major working for a Fortune 500 energy company. My ability to navigate office politics came from an understanding human motivation discovered in pages of fiction.

Here are several novels that reveal human motivation in ways that can help us get a handle on the office politics that we might encounter:

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III –Obsessive competitiveness

That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx—Conflicted sales ethics

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen—Organizational power and politics

Oil by Upton Sinclair—Overwhelming greed

The Help by Kathryn Stockett—Intimidation and control

Rainwater by Sandra Brown—Selfless leadership

Never underestimate the power of the novel to enrich your perspective.

Turn the mystery inside out!

When people know you’re on to them, you have gained some advantage, even if it’s only a bit of personal satisfaction. The key to the office politics dilemma is to protect yourself from it as much as possible with the help your own connections.  

So go ahead and add to your business fitness by picking up a great novel, taking note of how the characters behave. What you find may be just the clues you’ve need!

What novels have given you insights into human motivation? How has the knowledge helped you with office politics? I’d love to hear your story.