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Six thoughts for managers in New Year

Six thoughts for managers in New Year

How many companies, or divisions, or departments, have clear visions of where they're going?

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Six thoughts for managers in New Year

I think my seven-year-old son would make a good executive. Not someday, but today. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that he will become increasingly "unqualified," like many of us as he grows up. Of course my son is not any more special or uniquely different than other kids his age. But this is precisely the point.

Kids behave and think in some ways that are more appropriate to becoming a good manager than adults themselves. As we start the New Year, I would like to offer six thoughts on how to become a better manager that I have learned from my son.

Know what you want to be when you grow up. It took my son less than a second to give me this answer—a policeman. When I asked why, he answered, "Because I don't like bad guys in this world." Hmm, my guess is his answer is probably simpler, more concrete, logical and probably more worthy than most of the answers adults would give. How many companies, divisions, departments have clear visions? As a manager, focusing your team (whether it be a company or a small group) on a singular vision would go a long way towards making people work with a sense of purpose.

Understand your point of arrival. I asked my son, "I know you want to become a policeman, but how will you know if you are a good one or not?" He answered, "When all the bad guys in the entire world are locked up in jail." His point of arrival or measure of success couldn't be clearer. As a manager, setting clear goals and targets at the company level or at individual levels is critical to being result focused and fair. After all, you can never reach a goal if you don't even know what it is. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid).

I usually have to keep things simple when I try to explain the world to my son. Simple, maybe, but not any less effective. Let me give you a test. My son answered this riddle within one minute (In one survey, more grade-school kids have answered this riddle correctly than graduate school students). What's greater than God? What's more evil than the devil himself? The poor have it. The rich need it. And if you eat it, you will die. (Answer at the end). Sometimes, I have found that the most effective way to convince a CEO or executives is by making presentations even a junior high student could understand. It's not how smart you are, but how you communicate with others. Learn to forget.

My son never tires of watching the same movie or playing a computer game over and over again. When I ask him if he isn't tired of seeing the same thing over and over, he simply replies, "No Dad, I see something new every time I watch it." If you think about it, adults tend to apply their life experience to any given situation. If it's a new situation, we are usually attentive; if it's a very familiar situation, we plug-in 90 percent of the picture, assuming we have the rest all figured out. The fact is that most of us really learn the first year and then repeat the activity learned in that year over and over again. So, does a twenty-year veteran really have twenty-years of communicated experience? Or is it just one year of learning multiplied 20 times?

The way to ensure continuous learning and improvement is to forget you know everything. Even anything. This can apply to management, as well as to personal life. I can now listen to a jazz tune many times in a row. First, I concentrate on the full sound; then I repeat, concentrating only on listening to the trumpet; then only the piano; then the drums, and so on. And you know what? I hear something new every time I listen to it.

Live for today. My son is a pro at living for today. He has an uncanny ability to maximize his happiness for today. Observing this, I tried to compare the balance of focus among past/present/future between my son and me. I would say the weighting my son places upon past/present/future is 10/70/20. For me, it's probably 20/10/70. I think my mom's is 70/10/20. I think I focus so much on "what could be" that sometimes I don't realize I am actually living my life moment by moment; I am afraid I'm living too much for the future, and life may be just passing me by. I turned 40 this year. I think I'd be lucky if I get a chance to feel the soft green grass thirty more times between my toes as I walk barefoot on a thick green lawn in the summer.

All of us work hard, but at the company, group or individual level, we should always remind ourselves of what we are working for and why. I sometimes look at my surroundings and really marvel at how amazing this world is. I want to appreciate them now. Not someday when I'm too old, weak and gray.

Learn to share. I think Koreans have some of the greatest survival instincts of any ethnic group in the world. How else do you explain a Korean fish market in the middle of Harlem in New York? I think it's good. Koreans are also very discriminate of those who are "in" their circle (family, friends, relatives) and those who are not, often resulting in "I don't care if I don't know you" attitude. This is not good, considering we are not at war or in some crisis. If as managers, we could instill some responsibility to share and give back (to company, people and society), even just a little, we may not change the world, but we could make a small to big difference for someone. What if in 2002, each one of us could make someone else happy or teach something to someone—to make a small to big difference in his/her life. And that someone shouldn't be family, relatives, close personal friends, close colleagues, or anyone you know well. If all of us could just do that one thing, I think we'd all make a difference. I think we—particularly Koreans—could do so much more.

So there you have it. My list of six things you could do to become a good manager. Come to think of it, I think a lot of these could be applied to everyday life. Obviously it's not a comprehensive list. But I figure, if I could get myself even to do three of them well, I will have succeeded in emulating my son. I just hope he doesn't grow up too fast. I wish you a Happy New Year. By the way, the answer to the riddle? It's "Nothing". The writer is a vice president of Bain & Company, one of the world's leading global business consulting firms founded in 1973.

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