Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What George the Manager Taught Me About Presidential Qualifications

George was the best manager I've ever reported to, or been around, in my military-industrial complex career. He wasn't a manager in the "Peopleware" sense, i.e. an inspirational, motivational, visionary leader for whom his department would commit to, and accomplish, great things and experience a richness of work and personal life beyond what any reasonable person has any reason to expect from a job.

No, George was a manager in the old school sense, that of being an effective administrator. He wasn't the greatest guy in the world, but the thing is that his department ran well, ran efficiently, and got things done. George knew how to organize his department, plan ahead, acquire the resources, make the deals, and such that were necessary for him and his department to carry out their assignments.

He wasn't the smartest guy in the room, but he knew how to pick 'em, and those are the ones he made into his department leads. His ego didn't require stroking from the leads to reassure him that he was indeed the smartest guy around. George openly stated that his goal was to surround himself with smart people, since from such individuals success is much more likely. He certainly didn't have the technical skills or talent we did, and he knew that to presume that he somehow possessed superior technical insight was, for him, laughable.

He demanded hearing only accurate statuses about our projects, and took what we said at our word, and worked to clear the path to our achieving project success. Whatever we told him needed to be done, he went and made it possible, dealing with all that noisome management and administrative political-type stuff that managers are supposed to deal with day in and day out (which is why too many managers, promoted up from doing techie work, flounder on the managerial tasks and step back into technical whenever they get the chance--it's a lot easier, and less frustrating).

Working in his department was a very positive experience for me, the other leads, and most of those in the department, despite George' personality deficiencies. The fact that our actual work in the company proceeded smoothly, with little drama, with the needed resources, allowed one a sense of accomplishment about their job. Progress was actually getting made, and one got to spend their time doing what they were good at, rather than having to fight with other engineers or departments in order to get their jobs done-George cleared the paths and administered the interactions in all those areas.

Seeing this first hand made it clear to me what it takes to run an organization effectively, and the skill set that it requires.

In this US presidential race I see those organizing and administration skills in full display by the Obama campaign. Seeing Obama's well-organized, disciplined, and foresighted approach to campaigning deeply reverberated with my experience working for George.

The ironic thing is that although I haven't seen George in over a dozen years, I think it's pretty unlikely that he would be an Obama supporter, yet it's the very practices, abilities, and competencies that he exhibited, and demonstrated the importance of, that have impressed me with Obama's demonstrated abilities to meet the demands of being the nation's Chief Executive.

(And just imagine what happens when you combine that kind of executive competence with vision and the fact that he will not infrequently actually be the smartest guy in the room :-)

1 comment:

ldso said...

Wow, very interesting. I too have a manager with the same qualities. He is a Marine who listens with fascination when I tell him why the status quo sucks and here is a simple suggestion for procedure to fix it. I have never thought of Obama that way - maybe I need to look into this political thing more...