3×3 Management : 9 key things every manager should do – Part 1

My journey to today

A while ago I was asked the question: “why have you been so lucky with the teams you’ve had? They all seem to do great things while I struggle to get mine to do the basics”.

I can’t remember exactly what I replied, but I’m guessing that it probably wasn’t particularly insightful.

What I do know is that the question made me think about why some people almost effortlessly achieved great results as a manager while others sweated blood just to be average.

Seeing well qualified people struggle with management while others with no formal qualifications excel reinforced my view that qualifications were not what made the difference.

I have nothing against qualifications and probably have more than my fair share of them. They are great as evidence of learning and employers value then highly, but the evidence was that they alone did not make the difference.

The “aha” moment came at a management seminar organised by my then employer, Anglian Water. One of the speakers, a successful senior executive, noted that “qualifications are the cards that get you in the game. How well you do depends on how you play those cards“.

That idea struck such a chord with me. From that day I never looked at any management tool or technique without asking myself “how can I use this to help me be a better manager“.

Today I express this idea in one of my key strap-lines: “It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know.”

Over time, observing other managers, good and not so good, and reflecting on my own experiences, I came up with three key themes for a manager to consider, each area having in turn three key ideas. Hence 3×3 management.

I’d like to share these with you, so you can avoid repeating all my mistakes and go off and make some new ones of your own. 🙂

So, what are 9 key things that I believe that every manager, regardless of gender, beliefs or culture, should be doing?

In this post I will share the first theme, Leadership, and the three key ideas that go with it


Leadership Idea 1. Be the conductor of the orchestra

The key role of the conductor of the orchestra is to get the music played as the audience expect it to be played. Notice that I don’t talks about it being played “right”. This is deliberate.

“Right” is at worst subjective and at best meaning something like “technically correct”. While I am no-ones idea of a musical expert I recognise that the best musicians bring that extra something to their performances.

It may be a nuance of phrasing or a particular way of introducing a special effect, but the overall result is something that is more pleasing to an audience.

Each member of an orchestra is there because they are especially good at what they do and, importantly, they are better at their craft that than conductor  is. The conductor’s role is to understand the output they require from each musician and help them achieve this.

Translated into business: a manager’s role is to understand the team objective, the contribution required of each team member, and to help the team member deliver what is expected of them.

The key point is that the team member should have a better understanding of the technicalities of their role than the manager, but the manager must understand enough about the subject to understand what the expert is telling them.

Which bring us onto idea 2.

Leadership Idea 2. Employ great people

I guess my question is “why wouldn’t you employ great people”. After all, if you can harness their talent effectively, your team will do great things and this will reflect well on you.

The often unspoken agenda is that the existing manager is concerned about being overshadowed, or worse replaced, by a star team member.

While I understand this position I would ask the question: “Where does this thinking lead?”. For me it leads to you having a team of average individuals who will only ever achieve average results.

The trick here is to think positively: you are the manager because you are the one who can bring a team together to get the job done. Focus on doing this well and your team’s results will ensure your and their progression.

You do want them to progress don’t you. After all, how can you be promoted if there’s no-one to replace you?

Leadership Idea 3. Be true to your values

To me a value is a standard of behaviour that defines you as a person.  Values can be straightforward, like being truthful, or more complex like “looking after each other“.

I would argue that “not stealing a team member’s credit” should be one of your values along with “none of us, me included, can do the whole job on our own“.

Having defined a value, my question is a simple one: “when does a value stop just being words and become a value?“. For me a value becomes a value when it has been tested.

By “tested” I mean that you have been seen to respect your values even when it may be to your own disadvantage.

As an example: one of my values as a manager is: “if you, a team member, have made a significant mistake, tell me about it and I will do my best to help you sort it out“.

Be clear: this does not mean that I can shield them from the consequences of their actions, just that you will help them resolve it in the least painful way.

What do you think would happen if a team member made me aware of an issue of their making and I used this information to ensure that no blame came my way. How likely would they be to tell me the next time?

Coming back to values:  your values are about the things that are important to you. Think carefully about what is important to you make sure that you walk the talk.


Did you find this post interesting? Would you like to say something about it? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or start a discussion.


Bob Windmill

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