I’m about to celebrate an anniversary: this month, 32 years ago, I officially earned my license to practice management.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I shook my boss’s hand and thanked him for the promotion, I was about to embark on an amazing journey and a wonderful career.   (Candidly, I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into as I had primarily sought the position because it meant a decent raise and a better shift.  And, I had come to the conclusion that if my boss could do it, well, so could I.)

Reflecting back over the past 32 years, I think my successes were achieved through both a bit of managerial talent and a smidgen of leadership skill being fully leveraged by a very clear understanding of what I was to accomplish as a manager.  I believe it’s the aforementioned clear understanding for which I’m most appreciative.  As it turns out, I was very fortunate to have been taught true “managerial purpose” at the very beginning of my career; clearly that has not been the case for many, less fortunate new managers.  Note: Thank you, FedEx, for the extraordinary resources and support you provided your new managers!

For the past 20 years, much of my vocational energy has been devoted to helping managers and management teams as they worked through various organizational and operational problems, challenges, and opportunities.  Because my clients range in size from small organizations to Fortune 100 companies and span numerous industries and disciplines, I’ve had the benefit of observing managers at every level of the organization in a wide variety of settings.  And yet, as unique and diverse as my clients are, it’s what they have all had in common that is at the heart of this article.  When I ask them, “As a manager, what’s your Prime Directive or purpose to the organization?” they instantly get a befuddled look on their face and begin rambling on about “blah blah profits,” “blah blah customers,” blah blah people,” “blah blah … whatever.”  Given enough time and a bit of discussion most can cobble together something akin to a loose job description for a manager.  But, very few have ever immediately provided a deeply internalized, quoted-from-memory, succinct, understandable explanation of their Prime Directive or purpose.  Is their difficulty in answering the question a function of their lack of understanding of my use of the term ‘Prime Directive,’ or that I surprise them with the question and catch them off guard?  Nope, neither explains their difficulty in answering the question.

For the most part the aforementioned managers have been and continue to be successful hitting most of their numbers, achieving most of their goals, and getting the urgent stuff accomplished; the question for me is this: what might these managers have accomplished (or do differently) if they had operated from a common, deeply internalized, profoundly simple understanding of their purpose? 

So, let’s cut to the chase and allow me to share the managerial Prime Directive that has served me well these many years.  As a manager, my prime directive is:

“In accordance with my customer’s expectations, simultaneously improve our services and products while reducing the costs to provide them utilizing the resources the organization entrusts to me. If those resources include people, I must first and foremost be a leader.”

And there you have it.  Armed only with 40 words organized into two sentences, I know what I’m to accomplish—each and every day, year in and year out.  Over the years while my titles and responsibilities have changed and the places, people and processes are different, my managerial prime directive remains clear.  For me, the clarity it provides has been invaluable.

The best thing about my managerial Prime Directive is, when you drop the second sentence, it instantly becomes every employee’s Prime Directive.  Call me crazy, but to my way of thinking having everyone aligned to and operating from a well-understood, deeply internalized Prime Directive would be worth the effort required to pull it off.  

Over the next several weeks, we’ll discuss some other equally crazy ideas about successful organizations like, what leaders really do, how to adopt and practice a really useful, practical problem solving/decision making toolset, and how to mentor others to become force-multipliers in solving important organizational problems.  In the mean time, click on the “Add A Comment” link below and let me know what you think about the potential value of my Prime Directive.  Better yet, share your own Prime Directive and describe why it works for you. 

Bob T … over and out.

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