What makes a great manager (or teacher)?

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A few days ago I read an amazing article titled “What makes a great teacher?”. This is how the article is described in the header:

For years, the secrets to great teaching have seemed more like alchemy than science, a mix of motivational mumbo jumbo and misty-eyed tales of inspiration and dedication. But for more than a decade, one organization has been tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and looking at why some teachers can move them three grade levels ahead in a year and others can’t.

I was reading through how that organization, Teach for America, dispelled many of the myths (or conventional wisdoms) about what constitutes a great teacher by observing teachers and measuring the effects they have on kids and I could not shake the feeling that everything that was written in the article about teachers could be equally applied to managers. There are so many examples in the article to what I just wrote about this week, managerial blindness:

The results are specific and surprising. Things that you might think would help a new teacher achieve success in a poor school—like prior experience working in a low-income neighborhood—don’t seem to matter. Other things that may sound trifling—like a teacher’s extracurricular accomplishments in college—tend to predict greatness.

Based on her own experience teaching in the Mississippi Delta, Ayotte-Hoeltzel was convinced, for example, that teachers with earlier experience working in poor neighborhoods were more effective. Wrong. An analysis of the data found no correlation.

The feeling that the article described what I constantly try to articulate about mangers made me try to “translate” some of the paragraphs to the world of managers. Following are some quotes from the article, where I changed the words “teacher” and “student” to “manager” and “employee” and made other similar corrections. I think these paragraphs speak for themselves.

Management is not something mystical:

… But the [company], statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which [manager] stands in front of their [employees]. [Manager] quality tends to vary more within [companies]—even supposedly good [companies]—than among [companies].

But we have never identified excellent [managers] in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere—but not replicate. The great [manager] serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.

There is a great difference between doing a good job and a GREAT job:

… had begun to notice something puzzling when she visited [workplaces]: [managers] were doing good work. But a small number were getting phenomenal results—and it was not clear why.

There is no feedback (or dismissal) for bad people management skills:

Once [managers] have been in the [workplace] for a year or two, who is very good—and very bad—becomes much clearer. But [managers]are almost never dismissed. [Higher management] almost never gives [managers] poor performance evaluations—even when they know the [managers] are failing.

A very strong story, both for the world of education and the world of management. It is worth a read. Would love to hear what you think the similarities and differences are.

Elad

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