Tenets of management design: Doing managerial tasks is what adds up to being a manager

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In today’s article, I discuss the meaning of what it means to be a manager.  This is part of a continuing series that explores the tenets of Management Design, the field this blog pioneers. Management Design is a response to the poorly performing existing designs that are currently used in creating managers.  These current designs describe how managers tend to be created by accident, rather than by design, or that efforts to develop quality and effective managers fall short.

Today’s tenet:  Doing managerial tasks is what adds up to being a manager.

The current understanding of what it means to be a manager is to receive the designation of “manager.”  If someone gets a role as “manager”, they are now a manager.  Notice that the new manager does not have to perform any managerial tasks to get this designation.  This explains why many managers can “be a manager” without actually doing anything managerial (see my series on manager identity).  That manager can perform any number of things that are not managerial (continuing to do the individual contributor work, for example), and still be the manager.  That manager can do things that are the exact opposite of good management practices (such as yelling or making generalizations about employees, for example), and still be considered a manager by virtue of being designated the manager.

Because the management role and the tasks associated with it are often ill-defined or limited, and because individual managers are required to define by themselves (often inadvertently or through trial and error) what a manager does, it is not surprising that the only unifying concept of what it means to be a manager is having the designation that one is a manager.  There are often no markers for what it means to be a manager other than simply having the designation of “manager.”

This lack of specific action associated with the job title is different from just about any other profession – even ones with management as a component, like football coach or movie director.  A football coach is expected to have a team on the field that performs.  A movie director has a finished film as an output.  A manager produces . . . a what?  Whatever the manager’s team produces is the output, but it is by indirect definition.   The manager is a manager of. . . something.  The thing produced is once-removed.

Because of this inherently indirect causality of the management profession, it stands to reason that any action manager performs as manager can be interpreted as managerial, even if the manager does nothing.

In Management Design, I advocate assigning actual performance tasks to the manager role.  If the manager performs these tasks, the manager becomes a manager.  If the manager does not perform these tasks, the manager does not become a manager.  Perhaps this seems kind of obvious, but start thinking of the bad managers you have had.  Did they do things according the management trade, or did they assert their individual concept of what it is to be a manager.  This tenet of management design asserts that it is what the manager does that determines whether and when the manager becomes a manager.  Those not performing management tasks at a basic professional level should not earn the term manager.

This is how other professions are determined – if someone does not actually do the tasks associated with the profession while on the job, they are not considered as having that profession.  An accountant needs to the tasks that add up to “accounting.”  A software developer has to do the tasks that add up to “developing software.”  And a manager has to do the tasks that add up to “managing.”

So what are these tasks?

Individual organizations should have the right to determine what these tasks are.  And the emerging field of Management Design should make it an ongoing effort to develop an understanding of what these tasks and behaviors associated with the tasks are.

Here are some sample tasks:

Providing Team Expectations (discussed here)

Providing Performance Feedback (discussed here)

Establishing a team strategy (discussed here)

So the manager does not become a manager once she gets that job title.  The manager becomes a manager once she does the tasks associated with managing.  Without this act of becoming a manager – and many organizations allow this — the manager is what I call a phantom manager.

And if your organization doesn’t know what these tasks are, it’s time to identify them, and you’ve started down the path of Management Design.

Related articles:

Tenets of Management Design: Focus on the basics, then move to style points

Tenets of Management Design: Managing is a functional skill

Tenets of Management Design: Drive towards understanding reality and away from relying on perceptions

Tenets of Management Design: Identify and reward employees who do good work

Tenets of Management Design: A role in management is not an extension of performance as an individual contributor

Tenets of Management Design: Managers are created not found

Tenets of Management Design: If you don’t have a system, it’s probably being done over email

Becoming a manager is a subversion of self-identity


Without management design, the new manager relies on base instincts


The new manager is an amateur at doing managerial tasks


Giving performance feedback is breaks the illusion of greatness of a manager


Why managers don’t give performance feedback – it hurts the ego


A common identity of a manager is the ability to rise in the organization – and is this a good thing?





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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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