There is more to being a manager than just…

Photo by respres

Jennifer Fallon writes in the Epic Fantasy novel Warlord:

Damian patted the lad on the shoulder and continued along his way, thinking he should have thought to ask the boy his name. Almodavar would have done that. Then again, he probably didn’t need to ask. Damian suspected Almodavar could address ever Raider in Krakander by name, and there were thousands of them. He probably knew the names of all their wives and children, too.

There’s more to being a good general than knowing how to win a battle, Almodavar had often told him when he was a lad. It’s about knowing your men. Knowing what drives them. And sometimes it’s knowing how to avoid a fight.

Isn’t this true for managers just as it is for generals? Look what happens when I take the second sentence and change it a bit:

There’s more to being a good manager than knowing how to make money, Almodavar had often told him when he was a lad. It’s about knowing your men. Knowing what drives them. And sometimes it’s knowing how to avoid the sale.

Are you able to do that? If not, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It just means you should probably refrain from trying to be a manager. Find someone who knows these things instinctively and let them do it. You should concentrate on your own comparative advantage, whatever that may be.


Make yourself non-equitable

Scott Ginsberg (or in the name is more famous for, The Nametag Guy), introduced a challenge on his blog. He has a new book out, called -ABLE: 35 Strategies for Increasing the Probability of Success in Business and in Life (see cover above). This is how he describes his book:

The purpose of this book is to sell you on my theory of the universe. Which is:

The only thing in life you have control over is yourself.

And that you can’t make anything happen – but you can (greatly) increase the probability of that thing happening … by making yourself more “-able.”

(The title of the book is pronounced as “a bull,” just like the cute little cartoon.)

So, he challenged people to come up with more concepts that represent their own theory of the universe or describe secrets for increasing the probability of success and name it with a word that ends in the suffix “-able.

Hence, this post titled: make yourself non-equitable.

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, I know so well, as a former lawyer. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two. Nobody can be good at everything. People who truly excel do it by recognizing their comparative advantage, maximizing it and letting other people do what they are better at than them.

In western societies, equality is part of the ethos. People fought for the right of equality for ages and it is so commonplace and understood (even if not completely practiced) we regard it as a given right. The quotation “All men are created equal” is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America’s political documents.And if all men are created equal, they should be treated as equal in the workplace as well. And they think as themselves as equal. And this creates problems.

Because we are not equal. We are unique. Special. With different talents, skills, perspectives, life experiences, likes and dislikes. And that means that treating us as if we are the same is wrong. Can you honestly tell me that everybody is equally fitted to be a manager? Of course not. And still, the structures for development in most companies are mainly built on the assumption of equality. People who don’t get to be managers feel they are not successful. If we have different talents and needs, why do managers devote equal time to the people they work with instead of giving different people what they need? Why are performance reviews standardized? Because everybody is the same! And we fire the worst performer on the standardized criteria because he is not as good as doing the same thing as everybody else.

The equality ethos, while not bad or wrong by itself has its limitations. The problem is it is so entrenched into our thinking, that we export it to areas of life that it has no place for. Have you ever been part of team that needed to make a presentation and the members insisted that everybody speak during the presentation? Nobody asks whether this makes sense or whether this actually hurts the effectiveness of the presentation. No! We are all equal in this team. We all have to participate! That is just a simple example, but it demonstrates how, in places where we don’t have to, we are willing to sacrifice performance for artificial equality.

It is time we leave equality to the human rights field and start treating people as unique beings and not as cogs in a productivity machine. Nobody can be good at everything. People who truly excel do it by recognizing their comparative advantage, maximizing it and letting other people do what they are better at than them.

So, how do you become non-equitable?

First, by finding your own unique talents and strengths. What are you great at? What do you bring to the table that nobody else does? What do enjoy doing? In what activities do you feel a sense of flow? Doesn’t it make sense that you would do more of that and less of other stuff? So? What are you waiting for?

Second, by not treating others like they are equals. By finding what each individual brings to table and helping him or her be the best they can at it. By respecting others and treating them like they are different from you and thus, have something to teach you. By not evaluating people on standardized scales and expect them to be all-around players. That is just the path to mediocrity. By learn from what we know about how to treat kids:

Rena Subotnik, a researcher with the American Psychological Association, has studied children’s progression into adult creative careers. Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly—at the expense of well-roundedness. “Kids who have deep identification with a field have better discipline and handle setbacks better,” she noted. By contrast, kids given superficial exposure to many activities don’t have the same centeredness to overcome periods of difficulty

Its time you leave the equity ethos behind and start becoming non-equitable.



Not everybody can

Photo by ProfAlliRich


“Anybody can pour a cup of coffee, rent out cars, sell pairs of jeans. Except, of course, they can’t. The [businesses] that are the best at these things take ‘anybodies’ off the street and make them their own ‘somebodies”

I found this quote, by Alex Frankel (from his book Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee), in a great post by John Moore from the Brand Autopsy Blog. Here is another part from the post that talks about the same point:

Turns out the quality of the employee is the difference-maker between an energetic store and a lifeless one. It can also make the difference between a loyal customer and an infrequent customer.

I really like these quotes because they touch upon a few powerful ideas I really believe in. More than anything else, it means that not everybody is equipped to do every job. I know it is not popular to say this, but we are not equal. And I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, most people can do any work, but they can’t excel at everything. They can’t create Art in the Seth Godin sense of the word. And excellence and Art is what is needed to create true engagement.

I can pour and prepare coffee. But I will never make connections with a customer in a way that makes him feel good about him or herself. And while I am sure I will make a very good employee and do everything needed, be on time and whatever else the “rule book” says, I will never be able to do the things that really matter in such a situation. I can learn how to “talk the talk” with customers, but inside, I would never “walk the walk”. I will never truly enjoy such an engagement with strangers. It is not in my character or personality. But others can. It doesn’t say anything bad about me or them. It just the wonderful differences between us.

A manager’s job is to make these connections between roles and people and in a way that contributes to the employee’s sense of self and to the goals of the business. It starts by choosing good people but it continues into listening to them, talking to them, asking the right questions and helping them find their strengths and flow.

Do that and the customers will follow.


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Just because you are successful, doesn’t mean you need to be a manager


Two similar ideas by two different people, both espousing an idea I really like: not everybody needs to be a manager; Even though we all think we do.

In this short TED talk, Richard St. John, says, about 1:30 minutes into the talk, the following sentence:

And reaching success, I always did what I loved. But then I got into stuff that I didn’t love, like management. I am the world’s worst manager. But I figured I should be doing it. Because I was, after all, the president of the company.

And then, about 2:40 minutes into the talk, this:

Well, it didn’t take long for business to drop like a rock. My partner and I, Thom, we had to let all our employees go. It was down to just the two of us, and we were about to go under. And that was great. Because with no employees, there was nobody for me to manage. So I went back to doing the projects I loved. I had fun again. I worked harder. And to cut a long story short: did all the things that took me back up to success. But it wasn’t a quick trip. It took seven years.

On the same idea from a different perspective, Allan Bacon writes:

Here’s my radical suggestion for creating more time and flexibility in your job: give yourself a demotion from management to a position where you can directly make a strategic contribution. I call this “strategic downshifting”.

Just like downshifting in a car, this gives you more power and control. It also makes your engine rev higher and gives you faster acceleration. That is to say, you can create a place where you can be excited about your work again.

I already wrote a few weeks ago about the dangers in our misguided self-perceptions. The myth that success in business means becoming a manager is a just what it is – a myth. Don’t let yourself be disillusioned by it.

It is time to find and focus on your strengths. To find and focus on your comparative advantage. To find and focus on how you can make a difference and how you can create change.

It is time we strive for excellence.

Are you in the best role you could be or do you need a downshift?


Shorts: Chip and Dan Heath on what is working

In Seth Godin wonderful E-book What Matters, Chip and Dan Heath write:

We’re wired to focus on what’s not working. But Murphy asked, “What IS working, today, and how can we do more of it?”

You’re probably trying to change things at home or at work. Stop agonizing about what’s not working. Instead, ask yourself, “What’s working well, right now, and how can I do more of it?”

This is another example of how important it is to notice what is not there. The problems jump out on us and demands our attention. However, dealing with the less obvious things is more important. It is also a reminder for us to focus on our strengths and on our comparative advantages. By focusing on what works for us, we can improve much more then by focusing on what is not working for us.


Shorts: @daverendall on tradeoffs

Dave Rendall from The Freak Factor is so spot on:

The same thing that causes some people to like you, will cause other people to dislike you. The same thing that makes some people happy, will make other people unhappy.

I said it before – life, business, relationships. It is all about tradeoffs. The more we accept that, the happier and more successful we will get.


Shorts: The Freak Factory on Teamwork

We so often forget where the real power of teamwork can be found. David Rendall, in his Changethis manifesto The Freak Factory: Making Employees Better by Helping Them Get Worse, reminds us:

Teamwork doesn’t mean that everybody does the same thing. It means that everyone contributes what they do best

Reminded me of what I wrote in my E-book:

There is the known proverb saying: “there is no ‘I’ in the word ‘Team'”. If you ask me, it is a silly notion because it takes to edge of the most important factor of the team – The teammates themselves. I think that a team is composed of a lot of “I”s. That is what makes it a strong team… A team is made powerful by using the comparative advantage of each team member and making it the team’s advantage.


Setting your priorities straight


Photo by ➨ Redvers

When I was an instructor in the Israeli Air-force I used to give a workshop about time-management. The concept “time-management” is a little misleading. It gives us the illusion that time can actually be managed, when in fact, it can’t. Time is given. It will pass if we want it or not. And it will do it at the same pace it always did, no matter what will do. So, we need to manage our decisions given that time.

Every time I gave that workshop there was a least one person who would come up to me and tell me: “Look, I am swamped. I just have too many things to do and not enough time”. I always gave those people the same response: “You don’t have a time problem, you have a priorities problem”.

Because time-management is about choosing your priorities, being consistent with them over time and accepting that this process will inherently include some tradeoffs. There will be things you will not be able to do. But until you get your priorities straight you will face problems.

I like to take principals like the time-management-priorities one and see where I can apply them in other facets of life. Now, after almost completing two session of my MBA program, I think that I can confidently say that “getting your priorities straight” is the key concept that describes my learning this session. Because all the courses I studied this session, had this one concept in common. You have to make choices. And you have to be consistent about them. Or in other words, you have to set your priorities straight.

In finance you can see it in the choice between risks and returns. Do you want a higher risk or a higher possible return? What is the level of return are you seeking? You have to make a choice. And until you set your priorities, your goals, your preferences, be them as they may, you cannot make the right choice. And in order to deliver real value, you need to make consistent decisions over time.

Operations management – does my company need to cooperate with others in the supply chain or not? Do I need a pull or a push based production line? Is responsiveness or effectiveness more important? Well, it depends on your priorities. But whatever you do – you have to make sure, that all other parts of your organization and even you suppliers and buyers, are in tune with the same priorities and are consistent with the same decision.

How do you determine your IMC (integrated marketing communications)? Or how do you decide if you are going to concentrate on growth or retaining current customers? You guessed it – decide what your priorities are and make consistent decisions about them. And most importantly – as in time-management – you have to make choices that lead to tradeoffs that are inherent to the decision making process.

Finally strategy, the mother of all priory decision disciplines. To quote our strategy professor:

“Strategy is making choices… since you have limited resources, you cannot do everything (and expect to do them well)… that are genuine… ‘real choices’ that are ‘difficult’ and consistent. A ‘set of choices’ that different elements strengthen and reinforce each other”

And for me, all of this is the essence of another great idea I believe in. The idea of the comparative advantage. Because comparative advantage is not only about actual competition, but it is more about recognizing what is more important, where can I make the biggest contribution – to myself and to society – and going with it all the way. That is why I try, once in a while, to assess what my priorities are and what my comparative advantage is.

When is the last time you sat with yourself and asked your self – in a personal or professional setting – what are your priorities?


The right side of the graph

In the last few days in class, we have been going through a phase of self reflection. This phase included surveys, inventories and questioners, as well as group discussions and self reflection, both written and mental.

The last day, our facilitator presented us with the following graph:


The basic idea is to think about our parts in teams and later about our jobs and pinpoint actions we employ daily to their respective places on the graph. I think this is a very simple but usable tool in order to self reflect.

But looking at it, made me think about how managers can use this. Because of this simplicity, managers can use this simple tool to know a lot more about their employees.

I believe good managers should focus almost all their efforts on helping people find their strengths and concentrate on them, because this is the way to help people truly excel. As I elaborate in my e-book, I believe people can achieve remarkable accomplishments if they focus on their comparative advantages and use them constantly.

 Thus, great managers should focus their time on their employees’ strengths instead of focusing it on their weaknesses and areas of improvement. That said it is important to understand that there are different kinds of weakness and different kinds of strengths.

If the weakness is a result of insufficient knowledge or skill, then the manager role is to supply the knowledge, teach the skill or get the employee to learn the skill from an outside source. This is true in a limited number of cases. Sometime people feel incompetent and dislike certain actions, because they don’t know enough about them and never had proper training although they truly have a talent for it. In addition, most skills can be learned to a certain degree.

But in order to excel in certain skills you need talent. And different people have different talents.  And with talent I mean not only to quality of being good at something, but actually having the right mental state and the natural inclination for certain skills. And most of time, this talent, if used correctly, can help overcome any weakness much more efficiently then dealing directly with the weakness. Therefore, when a manager recognizes a weakness he should explore which kind of weakness it is and if training or knowledge will help the employee overcome it.

On the other hand, many times as managers, we perceive strengths of people but forget to ask them an important question: do you enjoy doing that role/action? Because some people are really good at something, but they hate doing it. if they don’t feel good when they are doing it, when they don’t reach a state of flow, than they would not be able to that for a long time and they would not be able to truly excel. And what great managers do is find ways to make their employees excel.

So, where are your employees’ actions, skills and talents on this graph and how can you move them to right side of the graph?


Different Perspectives

In this blog I write a lot about strengths thinking. You know, as the name of the blog suggests, and as I write in my e-book, that I a firm believer in the concept of using your comparative advantage. These are things I think about a lot and try to locate in different situations and aspects of my life.

What you can’t learn from reading this blog is that I am an enthusiastic epic fantasy reader. In almost any given time, I am in the middle of some epic fantasy book (usually a trilogy, that’s how they come in this genre).

This is why I was so thrilled to find such an accurate description of the basic ideas of   comparative advantage and strengths thinking while reading Brent weeks’ “The Way of Shadows“. Just read this bit from the book. I think any additional explanation is redundant:

“Take it this way: some people can add long lists of numbers in their heads, right? And some can speak a dozen languages. To do that, they have to be smart, right?”


“But just because you can learn to add lists of numbers doesn’t mean you will. But a woman who handles account books and has a gift for numbers can. Or a diplomat might have a gift for languages, but if he never learns another one, he’ll still only know one.”

Kylar nodded.

“The woman with the head for numbers could probably learn another language if she worked hard enough, but she’ll never be fluent in a dozen, and the man will never be able to add columns of numbers mentally. Do you see where this is going?”

Kylar thought, and Master Blint waited. “We know that I’m Talented but no how much, so you can’t tell what I’ll be able to do.”


Just Wow!