The Two Most Important Decisions That a Manager Can Make

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Apr 10, 2015
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: Readers sometimes ask about past TLNT articles, so every Friday we republish a Classic TLNT post.

The first time I held a general management role, I had a mentor share something with me I found to be pretty life changing.

He said, “You need to worry about WHO and WHY. That’s it.

Here is why this is so important.

Executive Decision  No. 1 – WHO

The most important decision you can make as a general manager is WHO?

WHO will you choose to run the most important parts of your business?

If you pick the right, trustworthy people, with the right skills, and the right temperament, they can move their part of the business forward — without involving you.

I can’t overstate how important this is.

If you don’t have people working for you that can trust, with confidence, to do big important things without involving you, you will personally work yourself to death, and you will not scale your business.

When I observe top executives who fail, it’s pretty easy to point to at least one poor decision they made regarding WHO they chose to help them.

(For more on organization design and choosing the right people, read this. And for more on getting rid of the wrong people, read this.)

Executive Decision No. 2 – WHY

The next important question is WHY. This is where many leaders make a mistake. They skip over WHY and start jumping into WHAT and HOW.

WHY is about context. Why does this matter? What obstacle is this overcoming? What opportunity is this addressing?

WHY is all about defining a clear desired outcome that is clearly understood by everyone — which is another reason why WHO you choose is most important.

That’s because once you define the WHY, you want that person to be able to run with the WHAT. I think most leaders generally recognize that diving into HOW is micromanagement, but they often fail to see that they are getting stuck in the WHAT, when they shouldn’t be.

Here is an example: As a CEO, you choose a marketing person who you believe is top-notch person, strategic, and a persuasive communicator (WHO). Then together you start working on the WHY. You decide that the outcome is that the market sees your company as a leading contender in your space in the next 12 months, and your share grows.

Choosing someone who can figure out the WHAT

You create context. The reason this “WHY” is so important is that you are trailing the market in a part of the business where you have a unique ability, but have failed to gain market share. The problems you need to overcome are a past reputation, and the lack of awareness of your current, very good offer.

As an executive, this level of strategy — WHY — is right up your alley. But then ideally you want your marketing person to be able to go off and figure out WHAT to do.

It could be related to product enhancement, business development, pipeline development, sales training, media relations, or some combination, but your leaders must be capable of deciding WHAT.

If you have not chosen someone WHO can figure out the WHAT, you’ll be stuck doing the strategic thinking for that person.

Then if you make another WHO choice, in another business area, of someone else that can not handle the WHAT, you’ll be doing the strategic thinking for that person too.

You get stuck doing too much work because you have not chosen people who are capable to come up with the WHAT.

Make the level jump successfully

Sticking with WHO and WHY is one of the ways the job changes dramatically, when you move up to the general management level.

When you were in charge of a function, you had to make the right choices for WHAT and HOW.

When you become a general manager you need to learn to let go of WHAT and let your business function leaders step up to handle it. You job is to choose and develop people who are capable of doing that.

When you take this approach, you build a very strong team.

Then you can stay focused on the bigger picture of the customers, the market, the overall quality of execution in your business, and the next set of WHY’s — problems to overcome and opportunities to go after, or process improvements that no one else has time to think about.

I have found this very simple shorthand to be invaluable to challenge myself about where I am spending my own time (WHO and WHY), and making sure I have the right people helping me (WHAT and HOW).

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.
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