What makes a successful manager?

The truth? What makes a successful manager? How can you go from being an ‘effective’ manager, to being a ‘successful’ manager, because sometime good isn’t good enough, not matter how well you do the job. Because the truth is there is: there is a difference between being effective, and being successful.


Effective managers vs successful managers

By far the most useful lessonI have learnt from management studies and experience is this one simple lesson that totally changed my thought process in terms of management and my own career is: being effective does not make you successful. This, in itself, made my entire initial outlay on the MBA course worth it.

Being an effective manager on its own will get you little you have to understand what makes a successful manager to give yourself the best chance of promotion/getting that new job/going where you want.

We’ve probably all seen it, or even experienced it yourselves that one person; that one determined individual that works hard every day, that always produces to the high standards that they set themselves, that has the respect of others around them for the quality of their work, yet appears thwarted at every step on the way to promotion. Destined to remain at that desk, while people around them find their way up the ladder despite their work being of lower standard…

Why does that happen?

Fred Luthans in 1988, analysed the frequencies of the different categories of behaviour, and tried to correlate behaviours with ‘success’ and ‘effectiveness’.

First, he defined success in terms of speed of promotion, which, I believe we would all agree is a reasonably good indicator of personal success. I’d perhaps want to include hitting targets and delivering to high standards but that’s where we come to effectiveness…

Luthans found ‘effectiveness’ harder to define, but did so in terms of: high levels of satisfaction, commitment by subordinates, and high quantity and quality standards of performance.

A key finding of his research was that ‘successful’ managers, i.e., those who were rapidly promoted, had little in common with effective managers… so what were they doing that was different?

Luthans had earlier classified the activities of managers into 4 distinct areas:

  • Communication – exchanging information, paperwork
  • Traditional Management Planning, decision-making and controlling
  • Networking Interacting with others, socialising and politicking
  • Human resource management motivating, reinforcing, disciplining, managing conflict, managing and developing staff

(Luthans isn’t the only person to do this, nor is his list individually the epitome of lists, but it isn’t bad and it fits his later work).

What Luthans found was that effective managers usually were capable in most, if not all the these main areas of management. The only thing that successful managers had in common, was their ability to network. They weren’t necessarily good at any of the other areas, but they were all experts at interacting with others, socialising and politicking.

While our hard working effective managers are knuckling down every day, getting stuff done efficiently, stabilising the boat and performing, our successful managers are out talking to people, linking together, getting their voice and their names heard. They may be effective as well as being good networkers, but what Luthan’s found: they don’t have to be in order to be successful.

Networking is the key


This one lesson, this one piece of academic research changed my perceptions of my own career.

I’d always believed that if I knuckled down, got on with my work, consistently delivered to high standards I’d be noticed, someone would give me my chance. This one lesson, learnt in the first weeks of the MBA course changed perspective.

I went out, I made contacts, I made a resolution to make sure influential people knew me and could see what I could do.

I still want to be effective in everything that I do, I set very high standards for myself. I am determined to be good at all the main activities of management, but I now understand the importance of the one activity I wasn’t fully aware of.


One word of warning We’ve seen those people who are constantly promoted, those networking gurus who ‘play the game’… everyone is promoted to their level of incompetence eventually. So for those out there who are aiming to be successful without the hard work of effective, watch where you step to.


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