Quick Printing
October 2007
7 Ways to spot a good manager
Communications skills, good attitude and focus contribute to the right stuff

One of the most important decisions a printing executive will make is choosing the management team at his or her printing firm. During my 23 years as owner of a very successful printing firm, I hired some managers who were superstars...and I hired a few who bombed completely. Here’s my list of the seven common denominators for management success.

1. Good communications skills
A good manager must communicate abstract ideas to workers who—sometimes—possess only average intelligence. She should express ideas clearly in writing, and be able to formulate written policies and procedures regularly. She needs to be a listener, not an interrupter. A good communicator is confident, but not intimidating. A good manager must convince co-workers to change their ways on the strength of her logic—not by intimidation or the authority of her title and position.

2. The ability to knuckle down
My Grandpa Stevens, a machine repair man at the General Motors Fisher Body Plant in Flint, Michigan, was a tough but wonderful grandpa, who would sometimes tell me I needed to knuckle down and do better at my schoolwork. Likewise, a good manager needs to know how to knuckle down. Everybody thinks they work hard, but one of the distinguishing characteristics of a good manager is the ability to get intense and focused when it’s necessary. Maybe he’ll arrive at work at 4:00 a.m. to hit an important deadline, pull an all-nighter, miss a social event, or an important hockey game on TV. But the point is, a good manager understands there are times when the cause is more important than the self.

3. He isn’t a runner
A good manager creates and conserves energy so he can multiply his efforts. Good eating habits, physical fitness, delegating effectively, having a positive mental attitude, and having a supportive spouse and family tend to create positive energies; while being overweight, worrying, and lack of sleep tend to drain energy. Some individuals have such busy personal lives that they never slow down and relax. My nickname for them is runners. A good manager can balance work, family, social, and worship times effectively. Runners can be the life of the party, but they’re lousy managers.

4. She’s coachable
Many management candidates torpedo their careers with a know-it-all sort of attitude that makes them uncoachable. It usually manifests itself in ways like constantly interrupting others as they’re sharing ideas and not making eye contact when someone is talking, or in bigger, more annoying behaviours like a negative or condescending attitude towards others. Uncoachable managers often avoid reading trade publications or attending industry events and seminars. On the other hand, coachable managers seem to have a sincere hunger for knowledge and tend to have a mature and humble attitude about putting others first.

5. Creates something from nothing
This one is huge. A good manager fixes problems. A great manager also puts procedures in place to prevent the problems from re-ocurring. A weak manager will take something and turn it into nothing. He may trash a whole system because it’s 10% to 15% wrong, overlooking the fact that it’s 85% to 90% right. There are two types of managers. The one who takes nothing and turns it into something, and the one who takes something and turns it into nothing. Hiring the wrong one will cost you a small fortune.

6. He doesn’t talk too much
OK...can we have a heart-to-heart talk about talking too much? In my opinion, this is a disease that has infected the printing industry. We all know the value of being a good listener, but it can’t happen if you or your manager talks too much. Good managers exchange ideas and thoughts. A manager who is a good conversationalist will energize your printing firm and build morale.

7. She has a high IQ
It’s not really politically correct to talk about hiring people with high IQs but if you really want to see your company thrive, you need really smart people. High IQ types comprehend new ideas easily, implement them quickly, communicate them clearly, and move on to the next issue enthusiastically. They tend to possess both lineal and spatial logic—which means they can relate to your creatives or your mechanical types. Do IQ tests on all of your management candidates before you hire them. Oh, one last thing: test your IQ too, and then hire people smarter than yourself. I’m not kidding.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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