Do You Really Know How Your Managers are Managing?

As the size of your business gets larger than $20M or so, you inevitably have to delegate a large part of the running of the business to your key leadership team, some of whom may not be located in the same office, state or even country as you are.

Most likely, you have a P&L and other accounting measures to determine whether the members of your leadership team are making their numbers. But, do you really know how these key managers are managing?

  1. Do they share your vision, values and philosophies?
  2. Do they interact with their subordinates in the outstanding, responsive, and enlightened way that you interact with them?
  3. Do they lead by their example?


A True Story:

A number of years ago, I took a 360 degree evaluation along with a group of other “high potentials.” For those that may not know, a 360 degree evaluation combines a self-evaluation with the results of a survey and/or interviews with your supervisors, peers, and direct reports to give a complete picture of how you are as a leader. In any event, we received our 360 feedback at a leadership training seminar that we all attended. As we were walking out of the meeting, a colleague pulled me aside to ask a sincere question about his results. “In my 360, my supervisors and I both rated myself very highly. But my direct reports gave me very low marks. How can my supervisors and I be so right when my direct reports are so wrong? Since I am already right, why should I change my behavior based on the results of this 360?”

This colleague is an example of every leader’s fear about their key leadership team. Leaders fear that they have an executive who makes the numbers and looks good in the upward direction while destroying the culture and values that the leader is trying to embed in the organization.

So, how can you get the “true truth” about your key executives, not only in terms of their results, but in terms of their example to their employees, their values and their vision?

As Ronald Regan said: “Trust but Verify.”

There are three things that all leaders should be doing in their managing of their leadership team:

  1. Ensure that your message is heard throughout the organization
  2. Develop relationships with stakeholders down, across and outside the organization
  3. Look the gift horse in the mouth


Ensure That Your Message is Heard Throughout the Organization

As the leader of your company or business unit, you need to define the values and vision of your company. You need to ensure that everyone has heard and understood the message, not only your direct reports but also their direct reports and all stakeholders. If not, employees many levels down in the organization may just accept the toxic values of a poor supervisor as being your values as a leader and the values of the company.

But, defining values does no good unless they are heard. To ensure that your values and vision are heard you need to communicate, preach, discuss, teach. Jack Welch writes: “there were times I talked about the company’s direction so much that I was completely sick of hearing it myself.”

While posters, signs and slogans may be nice and have their place, the message is best heard in person, face to face.

  1. Manage by walking around (MBWA)
    1. Ask questions to employees throughout the office, in the field, and on the factory floor
    2. Preach the message
    3. Share stories that embody the values
  2. Teach classes to employees at all levels of the organization or hold skip-level “lunch and learns”
    1. Reinforce and explain the values and vision in more detail
    2. Gives an opportunity to get to know individuals and to be known
  3. Repeat
    1. “Power of Ten” – A new concept or idea may need to be communicated ten times or more before being internalized by the listeners


Develop Relationships with Stakeholders Down, Across and Outside the Organization

You need to develop relationships with individuals 1, 2, 3, 4 or more levels down in your organization. There need to be individuals many levels down in the organization that you can ask how things are going and get a reasonably honest answer. Likewise, you need to develop relationships with key suppliers and some key customers to know how your company is delivering on their promises to these key stakeholders.

Especially with individuals lower in the organization, you need to be careful that they are not perceived as spies. It is important not to undercut the authority of their supervisors, especially if you hear of a problem. And it is important that they do not take what you say out of context and run to their supervisors saying the equivalent of: “we can’t do it this way. I just spoke with the President and in our discussion, he said that he disagreed and…”

There is a fine line between getting the true truth from the stakeholders and over-stepping your bounds, usurping the authority of their supervisors and micro-managing. But, it is a line that must be approached.

Some good questions to ask:

  1. What is your biggest challenge today?
  2. Can you tell me what the vision or values of the company are? (Good question to measure congruence and if your message has been heard)
  3. What are your three biggest priorities? (Another congruence question)
  4. What can we as management do to help you do your job better?

After asking the questions, listen closely to the answers and don’t offer to solve their problem (that is their supervisor’s job). But, by listening you will get a clear picture of how things are going in that business unit.

Look the Gift Horse in the Mouth

The biggest challenge in managing managers is not the manager who does not deliver on their numbers. We all can deal with that. It is the manager that delivers on the numbers, but is toxic on the culture of the company.

Look these gift horses in the mouth. Trust and verify their behaviors and values with their subordinates and other stakeholders (as above). And importantly, listen and observe them in action.

  1. Listen and observe how they get their job done
    1. Do they work in accordance with your vision and values?
    2. What do they say they spend their time on?
    3. What are the problems that they continue to have?
  2. Listen to the stories they tell about their business and their team
    1. Who is the hero in the story? The manager or the team?
    2. Do the stories show empathy to team members?
  3. Observe their behavior with others in the office
    1. Are they friendly?
    2. Do they greet people by name?
    3. Do they know people’s names?

If you still cannot get a comfortable feel about this manager and his or her values and style, then I would recommend doing a 360 degree evaluation for them. It is not a perfect tool; some stakeholders (especially subordinates) may not believe that the answers will remain confidential. But, it will give a fuller picture of the leader. There are 360’s that can be taken on-line and ones that are taken with an outside firm. It does not need to be expensive; but can be quite useful.


The power in any organization comes from all parts of the organization rowing in the same direction and in sync. This does not mean that you want to create an organization of clones; you want and will almost certainly have leaders and managers with different styles and different personalities. Nevertheless, these key managers must share the core values and vision that you as a leader have chosen for the organization.

So, trust but verify. Ensure that your key managers are managing as you want them to manage which will ensure that your key managers are the right people for your rowboat.

Until Next Time.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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2 Responses to Do You Really Know How Your Managers are Managing?

  1. Pingback: Communicate the Vision… Teach the Vision | David Shedd's Blog

  2. Pingback: Who is Managing and Leading Your Front-Line Managers? | David Shedd's Blog

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