Closely related to the study and identification of leader/manager roles are their day-to-day activities. Here is a recent description of managers’ activities that are not found in the textbooks or academic journals:
Jane, a senior vice president, and Mike, her CEO, have adjoining offices so The author (Luthans) andthey can communicate quickly, yet communication never seems to happen. “Whenever I go into Mike’s office, his phone lights up, my cell phone goes off, someone knocks on the door, he suddenly turns to his screen and writes an e-mail, or he tells me about a new issue he wants me to address,” Jane complains. “We’re working flat out just to stay afloat, and we’re not getting anything important accomplished. It’s driving me crazy.”
The author (Luthans) and his colleagues conducted a comprehensive study to answer three major questions: (1) What do managers do? (2) What do successful managers do? and (3) What do effective managers do? Answers to these questions can provide insights and specific descriptions of the daily activities of successful (those promoted relatively rapidly in their organizations) and effective (those with satisfied and committed subordinates and high-performing units) managers or leaders.
What Do Managers Do?
The so-called Real Managers Study first used trained observers to freely observe and record for one varied hour per day over a two-week period the behaviors and activities of 44 managers from all levels and types of Midwest organizations. These included retail stores, hospitals, corporate headquarters, a railroad, government agencies, insurance companies, a newspaper office, financial institutions, and manufacturing plants. The voluminous data gathered from the free-observation logs were then reduced through the Delphi technique (a panel discussion with anonymous conclusions based on composite feedback from the group and several iterations) into 12 categories with observable behavioral descriptors, as shown in Table 14.3. These empirically derived behavioral descriptors were then conceptually collapsed into the four managerial activities shown in Figure 14.3. Briefly summarized, these activities are as follows:
1. Communication. This activity consists of exchanging routine information and processing paperwork. Its observed behaviors include answering procedural questions, receiving and disseminating requested information, conveying the results of meetings, giving or receiving routine information over the phone and e-mail, processing mail, reading reports, writing reports/memos/letters, routine financial reporting and bookkeeping, and general desk work.
2. Traditional management. This activity consists of planning, decision making, and controlling. Its observed behaviors include setting goals and objectives, defining tasks needed to accomplish goals, scheduling employees, assigning tasks, providing routine instructions, defining problems, handling day-to-day operational crises, deciding what to do, developing new procedures, inspecting work, walking around inspecting the work, monitoring performance data, and doing preventive maintenance.
3. Human resource management. This activity contains the most behavioral categories: motivating/reinforcing, disciplining/punishing, managing conflict, staffing, and training/ developing. Because it was not generally permitted to be observed, the disciplining/ punishing category was subsequently dropped from the analysis. The observed behaviors for this activity include allocating formal rewards, asking for input, conveying appreciation, giving credit where due, listening to suggestions, giving positive feedback, providing group support, resolving conflict between work group members, appealing to higher authorities or third parties to resolve a dispute, developing job descriptions, reviewing applications, interviewing applicants, filling in where needed, orienting employees, arranging for training, clarifying roles, coaching, mentoring, and walking work group members through a task.
4. Networking. This activity consists of Socializing/politicking and interacting with outsiders. The observed behaviors associated with this activity include non-work-related chitchat; informal joking around; discussing rumors, hearsay, and the grapevine; complaining, griping, and putting others down; politicking and gamesmanship; dealing with customers, suppliers, and vendors; attending external meetings; and doing/attending community service events.
The preceding lists of activities empirically answer the question of what managers really do. The activities include some of the classic activities identified by pioneering theorists such as Henri Fayol (the traditional activities), as well as more recent views by modern leadership theorists such as Henry Mintzberg (the communication activities) and John Kotter (the networking activities). The activities are also similar to how leaders are generally described in articles in recent years of the Harvard Business Review, Business Week,Organizational Dynamics, and academic research. As a whole, however, especially with the inclusion of human resource management activities, this study of real managers’ activities is more comprehensive than previous studies of leader/manager activities.
After the nature of managerial activities was determined through the free observation of the 44 managers, the next phase of the study was to determine the relative frequency of these activities. Data on another sample of 248 real managers (not the 44 used in the initial portion of this study but from similar organizations) were gathered. Trained participant observers filled out a checklist based on the managerial activities shown in Table 14.3 at a random time, once every hour, over a two-week period (80 observation periods). As shown in Figure 14.4, the managers were found to spend about a third of their time and effort in routine communication activities, a third in traditional management activities, a fifth in human resource activities, and a fifth in networking activities. This relative-frequency analysis—based on observational data of a large sample from a broad cross-section of organizations—provides a fairly confident answer to the question of what real managers do. The environmental changes since this Real Managers Study was conducted have undoubtedly had an impact on managerial work. However, although globalization has affected the scope and advanced information technology has affected the means and the speed of communication and other areas such as decision making, the identified activities themselves should remain relevant and valid. In fact, a more recent follow-up study specifically aimed at those in knowledge management/information technology found similar results. Also, firms such as IBM are using software packages to map social networks. They are trying to exploit networking activities in order to “find and nurture their organizations’ most in-theknow employees.”
What Do Successful Managers Do?
Important though it is to get an empirical answer to the basic question of what leaders/ managers do, of even greater interest is determining what successful and effective leaders/ managers do. Success was defined in terms of the speed of promotion within an organization. A success index on the sample in the study was calculated by dividing the managers’ levels in their respective organizations by their tenure (length of service) there. Thus, a manager at the fourth level of management who had been with the organization for five years would be rated more successful than a manager at the third level who had been at that level for 25 years. Obviously, there are some potential problems with such a measure of success, but for the large sample of managers, this was an objective and useful measure.
To answer the question of what successful managers do, several types of analyses were conducted. In all these analyses, the importance of networking in real managers’ success was very apparent. Of the four major activities, only networking had a statistically significant relationship with success. Overall, it was clear that networking made the biggest relative contribution to manager success and, interestingly, human resource management activities made the least relative contribution.
What does this mean? It means that in this study of real managers, using speed of promotion as the measure of success, it was found that successful managers spend relatively more time and effort socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders than did their less-successful counterparts. Perhaps equally important, the successful managers did not give relatively as much time or attention to the traditional management activities of planning, decision making, and controlling or to the human resource management activities of motivating/reinforcing, staffing, training/developing, and managing conflict. In other words, for the managers in this study, networking seems to be the key to success (as defined by rapid promotion). It should be noted that many managers aspire to success rather than being effective. One reason is that personal pride and mobility are at stake. Bedeian and Armenakis note what they call the “cesspool syndrome,” in which organizations in decline lose their best employees first, leaving behind the “dreck,” which then floats to the top. Consequently, although being successful as opposed to effective may seem less desirable to the organization, from an individual manager’s perspective, it may be part of an effective career strategy.
What Do Effective Managers Do?
Although the operational measure of success used in the study was empirical and direct, the definition and measurement of effectiveness offers little agreement on criteria or measures. To overcome as many of the obstacles and disagreements as possible, for a sample of the managers, the study used a combined effectiveness index that represented the two major— and generally agreed upon—criteria of both leadership theory/research and practice:
(1) getting the job done through high quantity and Quality Standards of performance, and
(2) getting the job done through people, requiring their satisfaction and commitment.
In particular, a standardized organizational effectiveness questionnaire that measures the unit’s quality and quantity of performance, a standardized job satisfaction questionnaire, and a standardized organizational commitment questionnaire were used. This multiple-measures index was employed in the study to answer the most important question of what effective managers do. It was found that communication and human resource management activities made by far the largest relative contribution to the managers’ effectiveness and that the traditional management activities, and especially the networking activities, made by far the least relative contribution. In other words, if effectiveness is defined as the perceived quantity and quality of the performance of a manager’s unit and his or her work group members’ satisfaction and commitment, then the biggest relative contribution to leadership effectiveness comes from the human-oriented activities—communication and human resource management. Another intriguing finding from this part of the study, alluded to earlier, was that the least-relative contribution to the managers’ measured effectiveness came from the networking activity. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the results of the successful manager analysis. Networking activity had by far the strongest relative relationship to success, but the weakest to effectiveness. On the other hand, human resource management activities had a strong relationship to effectiveness (second only to human-oriented communication activities) but had the weakest relative relationship to success. In other words, the successful managers in this study did not perform the same activities as the effective managers (in fact, they did almost the opposite). These contrasting profiles may have significant implications (analyzed below) for understanding the performance problems facing today’s organizations.
Implications across Cultures and for Entrepreneurs and Knowledge Managers
The Real Managers Study is obviously bound by the definitions that were used, and, of course, one could question the generalizability of the findings and conclusions to all managers. As far as generalizability across cultures goes, a replication of this study that observed Russian managers in a large textile factory found very similar results. This study provides evidence that the activities identified for the successful and effective U.S. managers may hold across cultures.
Besides holding across cultures, a follow-up study of the activities of U.S. entrepreneurs (those who started and sustained their own business for at least seven years) using the same methodology found basically the same results as the Real Managers Study. The same is true of the previously mentioned latest follow-up study on knowledge managers. It was found that today’s knowledge managers (defined in this study as both explicit knowledge managers, directly concerned with the generation, codification, and transfer of knowledge, and tacit knowledge managers, focused on providing necessary interaction between knowledge workers or experts) spend about the same amount of time on the traditional and networking activities as those in the Real Managers study. However, even though the activities and their frequency of occurrence seem to hold both across cultures and for entrepreneurs as well as knowledge managers, more evidence is needed to draw any definitive conclusions about generalizability.
In the global arena, there are always confounding cultural variables. For example, there may be what has been called a “dark side” to leadership, which seems to be in evidence in many post-Communist countries. This negative side of leadership includes power bases derived from the Communist era, which demanded loyalty at any cost. This form of leadership created an increasing escalation of commitment to various courses of action (e.g., the Russian armed conflicts with Chechnya) and takes advantage of a halo effect derived from leaders and a sense of nationalism (“Mother Russia” combined with the continued popularity of the Stalin legacy). Under this “dark” approach, opposition is quickly removed. Follower characteristics can also contribute to this dark side; they view change with suspicion and worry that unsuccessful attempts at free enterprise are indicative of weak and ineffective leadership. As a recent analysis noted, “The continued survival of Transactional Leadership has led to a resistance to organizational change that continues to hamper many Russian firms as they attempt to make the transition to a market economy.”
One analysis argues that the Russian economy must be rebuilt through a transformation in the leadership. Centralized decision making must be curtailed, a culture of Empowerment should be created, autocratic leader practices must be reduced, trust must be developed, accountability training needs to be introduced, and follower responses of learned helplessness must be eliminated and replaced with an entrepreneurial spirit. These needed changes in leadership called for “minishock therapy” for the entire Russian culture and economy. However, at the national level, when Vladimir Putin became president, these needed economic reforms took a backseat to his appeal to national pride and the previous glory of “Mother Russia.” As a recent detailed analysis of his now completed formal presidency concluded:
Vladimir Putin changed the mood in Russia. Experts and opinion polls confirm that selfconfidence has returned to the country and its population. After the chaotic Yeltsin years, the Russians welcomed Putin’s nationalistic rhetoric, his strong stand when dealing with foreign partners, his nostalgia for the old Soviet Union, and his determination to bring Russia back to greatness.
Only time will tell what role Putin will play in Russian leadership now and in the future, but at the organizational level, challenges still remain. At both the national and organizational levels, knowing what leaders do, which was the purpose of the Real Managers Study, must be supplemented with why they are doing it.
Implications of the Real Managers Study
Despite some limitations, there seem to be a number of implications from the Real Managers Study for the application of leadership in today’s organizations. Probably the major implication stems from the significant difference between the activities of successful and effective managers. The most obvious implication from this finding is that more attention may need to be given to formal Reward Systems so that effective managers are promoted. Organizations need to tie formal rewards (especially promotions) to performance in order to move ahead and meet the challenges that lie ahead. This can be accomplished most pragmatically in the short run by performance-based appraisal and reward systems and in the long run by developing cultural values that support and reward effective performance, not just successful socializing and politicking. An important goal to meet the challenges of the years ahead might be as simple as making effective managers successful.
Besides the implications for performance-based appraisal and reward systems and Organizational culture, much can be learned from the effective managers in the study. In particular, it is important to note the relative importance that they gave to the humanoriented activities of communication and human resource management. The effective managers’ day-to-day activities revolved around their people—keeping them informed, answering questions, getting and giving information, processing information, giving feedback and recognition, resolving conflicts, and providing training and development. In other words, these effective managers provide some evidence-based answers to how to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Human-oriented leadership skills may be of considerable value in meeting the challenges of global competition, of information technology and knowledge management.