Business Brains

Interruptions are accelerating. So, be a smarter manager by inspiring action.

Posting in Design

I used to describe my previous job as a middle manager (I think that's what I was when I ran a business-to-business publication) as a sort of glorifie...

I used to describe my previous job as a middle manager (I think that's what I was when I ran a business-to-business publication) as a sort of glorified adult babysitter. I had to keep my eyes and ears on all sorts of random distractions, short-term interruptions for crises such as people and companies upset over information we had printed. Even moreso, I had to assuage egos, soothe bruised feelings, and mediate truces between colleagues who enjoyed acting out. At the end of the day, the more I bore the brunt of these interruptions and kept them more distracting my team, the better they did their jobs.

I felt all sorts of validated when I stumbled across this Wall Street Journal interview with management professor Henry Mintzberg, called "What Managers Really Do."

Dr. Mintzberg wrote the 1973 book, "The Nature of Managerial Work, and he has new one coming out in September that I think many of you will enjoy reading, called very simply "Managing." (Plus, he comes from my alma mater, McGill University, which made him even more interesting to me.) Warning: In Mintzberg's world, managers don't seem a whole lot of fun, unless they are gluttons for unending interruptions.

The job of management, he believe is simply this: influencing action. Here's an excerpt from the WSJ article that says it better than I can paraphrase:

"Basically, managing is about influencing action. Managing is about helping organizations and units to get things done, which means action. Sometimes managers manage actions directly. They fight fires. They manage projects. They negotiate contracts.

One step removed, they manage people. Managers deal with people who take the action, so they motivate them and they build teams and they enhance the culture and train them and do things to get people to take more effective actions.

And two steps removed from that, managers manage information to drive people to take action—through budgets and objectives and delegating tasks and designing organizations structure and all those sorts of things."

It is Mintzberg's contention, by the way, that too many managers get stuck in managing information. Too much opportunity for Paralysis through Analysis (my words, not his). Better to focus on helping your people AND on stepping into the fray yourself on behalf of your people. Notice what he lists first. Then why do we all worry so much and waste SO much time on the last piece of what he is talking about?

How about it? Which management plane are you stuck on today and should you be moving elsewhere in order to be smarter about your path? Should you be rebalancing your priorities? And should you be balancing management by BlackBerry tactics with something a little more personal?

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure