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I have worked with some great managers (project managers, CEOs, team leads …), but the majority of them were “number managers.” Number managers are the kind of people who are only bothered by the budget, the timing and the planning. You can find these guys and girls everywhere, in every company and in every corner. Most companies are happy to recruit them because, to the higher management, these are the right people. They keep an eye on the budget, they clearly communicate progress to the hierarchy and they provide a planning.

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The downside is that they are a pain to the people below them. Since they are so focused on the numbers, they tend to lose sight of the people in their team. Most of them wouldn’t even think of throwing a team-drink because that costs money. If you ask them about the vision of whatever it is you’re working on, the answer will most likely be: “Deliver in time and in budget.”

But that has nothing to do with vision. That’s part of your strategy.

These number management types are the reason why I always rejected management opportunities. I don’t want to be the person who does the math, creates a planning and sends around Excel files. In retrospect, I was foolish to reject the opportunities just because the person offering them had too much of a narrow view.

Three Corners

So I started thinking about the key-values for good managers. The first thing I did, was run through all the managers that I had encountered already, in all their shapes and sizes. I was thinking of Coaches, CEOs, Architects, project managers, Floor managers, planners etc… I noticed that there were three distinct areas. All of these people were focusing on one or more of following areas:

  • People (coaches and team leads)
  • Strategy (number managers and planners)
  • Vision (CEO, CIO and architects)

The successful managers that I have known focused on the entire spectrum, not just one area. They realize that they need a vision, which they must convey to a team of people, guiding them along a clear strategy toward that vision.

I have a great deal of respect to these all-round managers. They make a workplace truly enjoyable. The funny thing is that everyone is such a manager.

You manage your own life, don’t you? You have a vision of what you want to achieve. You surround yourself with people that can help you in your ambition (employers, parents and friends), and you have a strategy of how to get there (your funds, planning and career path).

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Vision is where so many managers go wrong. They mix vision with strategy and think that their success depends on the money and timing. It doesn’t. The success is measured in attaining your vision.

Ask a CEO about the vision of his company. If he answers, “Being profitable,” steer clear of that company. It will fail eventually.

A true company vision could be, “Create the best enterprise software,” “Produce the best golf-clubs ever” or “Become the world’s biggest electric car manufacturer.”

Strategy is the plan to achieve that vision. You can’t start your company, inject billions and flood the world market with electric vehicles from the get-go. You have to grow. In order to grow, you need to be profitable, find the right people, research the right products and improve efficiency.

People are the key to your strategy. A general cannot win a battle if he doesn’t know what specialties he has in his army (cavalry, archers, infantry and pikemen). His task is, to bring these people to the right place on the battlefield, where they can add the most value in pursuit of victory (his vision).

Why do so many managers show such a narrow focus? It’s the same reason so many companies use the wrong KPIs!

It’s much easier to measure cost than to measure efficiency, completion, satisfaction and reach. But the easy solution is not always the correct solution.

If you narrow your focus to only the strategy, you might as well just be a clerk. If you only focus on vision, then you become a dreamer. If you only focus on the people, you’re essentially a coach.

These are all highly appreciated roles, but they’re not managers. So keep an eye on your three corners: people, strategy and vision.

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5 Comments

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  1. Andy Silvey

    Hi Tom,

    nice thought provoking blog.

    Nice diagram precisely explaining your point.

    And a nice reminder that profit is not the only goal.

    Thanks and all the best,

    Andy.

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  2. Tom Van Doorslaer Post author

    Thanks Jelena and Andy,

    I had a lot of fun drawing that diagram. As usual, converting it into digital didn’t quite go as I hoped, but it’s good enough to support the message.

    I had quite a discussion today with my dad. He has an MBA and kept pounding on the profit. “The goal of a firm is to be profitable.”

    Which is a typical mentality for MBA’s, and which is the reason why I typically don’t get along well with MBA’s.

    Although he didn’t want to admit that profit is just a side-result of your vision, and thus part of the strategy, in the end, he gave up saying that I should go in sales or politics…

    I’m not sure if that was a covered-up sneer, or a recognition…

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  3. Maarten Vries

    I think so many managers are “numbers managers” that they are practically synonymous these day! I would use the term “leaders” for those managers, who are able to rise above the numbers and see the bigger picture.

    I also think you can’t really separate vision from strategy, because the vision is part of the strategy. You can’t have a strategy without a vision. Some people even think the vision IS the strategy, but this is also not the case. The vision is only the tip of the strategy iceberg, but it is part of it nonetheless. But then, I guess that is your point: that you can’t really focus on the vision without the (rest of the) strategy, and vice versa, and that makes perfect sense.

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