I’ve had many managers over the years, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to be in management positions a few times as well. A management position is a very touchy, delicate balance. You must remain in control at all times, retain employee and customer loyalty and dedication, and be as fully educated and knowledgable about your job and department as possible. You also need to retain a modicum of personality and subtlety that allows you to remain effective, while at the same time appearing approachable and trustworthy to your employees. The best managers, it seems to me, are able to effectively maintain this tenuous balance while maintaining a high performance level at their own job. The best managers are effective because they lead quietly and unobtrusively, and guide and nurture their employees rather than constantly micromanage them.
A famous Japanese actor, Yoshi Oida, once stated that the most effective actors are successful because they train themselves to become invisible. He felt that to be the best at their jobs, they needed to be like a ninja; they needed to learn to disappear. He wrote that there were many actors whom you could admire and point out specific movements, gestures, and body language that tell the audience exactly what they were trying to accomplish. It was these kind of actors, he wrote, who would continually impress you throughout their performance with their grace and artistry.
He then wrote of a different kind of actor. An actor who was able to become invisible. You never concentrated on the actor, but merely the world and character they were creating. The learned to disappear, and by doing so, became much more powerful and effective. He preferred that kind of actor; The one who disappeared.
It’s the same way with a great manager.
The most effective and successful managers learn to achieve the best results by leading by example and creating a nurturing environment where their employees feel empowered to make decisions independently. If a manager does their job properly, they set a foundation where their employees function independently with little direct managerial involvement. The manager disappears. You see the scope of their influence by the way in which the employees function.
To illustrate my point, I have a quick story about the best manager I’ve ever had. This man was so good at what he did because he lived inside his employees. He trained them in the way he wanted things run, and then he trusted in the people he hired to do the job for which he hired them. It’s a very basic concept, but somehow many managers lose sight of this simple idea. He was good at what he did because he led by example, and would never ask an employee to do something he couldn’t or wouldn’t do himself. Furthermore, he possessed all the technical skills necessary to do his job at the highest level, and his employees knew it. They took him seriously because he didn’t have to fake his way through anything. They knew he was the real deal. Finally, he was successful because he was able to strike that delicate balance between being a manager and maintaining a different level than his employees while at the same time being human, and encouraging his employees to seek him out for advice, expertise, or just someone to listen to them. He was unusually effective because although he was in charge, and you knew it, he didn’t act like I all the time. He didn’t need to, because he was confident in his own leadership and his employees. They followed his example and leadership because he inspired them to want to, not because they felt they had no choice.
Managing takes a certain kind of person, and a specific kind of temperament and personality. It has no bearing on length of time spent with a company, or seniority, or even what kind of degrees and classes one possesses. The best managers are students of human moves, and are great listeners. They understand that the best way to lead is to listen, not to command. They also understand that the more they can become invisible and let their employees do their jobs, the more effective they truly are as managers.