Remember the old Nike commercial with Michael Jordan and Spike Lee? If you don’t, thanks to the wonders of YouTube here it is:

So it’s an anti-ad, we all got that part. Michael Jordan would be great in his bare feet but Nike doesn’t care because every 15 year old still believes that his Nike Air Jordan’s will make him fly like Mike and dunk like Mike. But what does this mean for you as a leader and a manager?

Don’t focus on the tools. Everywhere you look on the internet there are people trying to sell you things that claim to make you a better manager. There are books and seminars; there are software tools for time management, performance management, goal planning and everything else. But they are just that – tools. If I go to work in Bob Vila’s workshop, I won’t produce a shaker armoire no matter how good the tools are because I don’t know the first thing about carpentry and furniture making.

To be clear, I’m not saying there is no value in having tools. If you have mastered the fundamentals, great tools can make the difference between working hard and working smart. But there is no shortcut to learning the fundamentals of management. Are you on the edge of your seat? Here they are – the two things you must learn to be an effective manager:

1. How does your company make money? In order to do everything else that’s involved in managing people and projects, developing goal plans and running your team, you must have a very clear picture of your organizations value proposition. Whether you are an internally focused group (HR, IT) or you work directly with external customers (Sales, Customer Service), your team contributes to the success of the organization at some level. Your role as a manager is to understand that contribution and then focus and adjust your team’s performance based on the larger goals of the organization. (For more on this, read my post on alignment).

2. What motivates your team members? At its most basic level, management is about getting people to do what you need them to do. So after you have determined (in step 1) what your organization wants and needs your team members to do, go find out what makes them tick. Is it money? Challenge? The chance to work on specific projects and learn new skills? Each individual who reports to you will have a different set of priorities, and the best thing you can do is learn exactly what they are and then use them to create incentives.

Your ability to answer these two questions, above and beyond every other available strategy to make you a better manager, will determine how successful you are in your job. So no, Mars, it’s not the shoes or the time management strategy or the review template or the mobile device. It’s about focusing on the fundamentals.


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