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What makes a good manager?

I am sure we all have a different idea about how to answer this question. At my stage in life I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to managers. You may relate when I say there are some, try as I might, that I cannot for the life of me remember their names or their faces for that matter, such is the lacklustre recall of their part in my working life. Others I remember only too well, for their dastardly psychopathic qualities . Ironically one particularly bad manager who did untold damage to my career was then disposed of herself by the powers that be but too late to reinstate me. Occasionally there are some managers who are true legends.

As a cheeky 17 year old I rocked up to Wilton House, home of the Earl of Pembroke (fans of Bridgerton and The Crown will know it) to be interviewed for my first job. Veronica Quarm a woman who seemed ancient (remember I was 17) but was probably no more than 40 invited me to my first interview ! She wryly smiled as I sat through the entire interview with my right arm slung over the back of the armchair, slouching like I was hanging out at Peter Stringfellows. She laughed as I told her in no uncertain terms why she should employ me. She told me later she thought I was a cocky little thing but charming! Under her tutorage I had my first experience of working life and her guidance was both firm and kind. I worked crazily hard back then and she noticed.

Three months later (it was a temporary job) I left to go to my second job but it would not be long before I was back for a second round at Wilton House with Veronica as my boss again. It took me years to call her Veronica and not just Mrs Quarm which seemed odd given that I was now middle aged myself. In her Christmas cards she used to plead ‘please call me Veronica’. “I will Mrs Quarm thank you” I found myself replying! Some things are hard to get used to.

One boss I had back in my 20s was particularly memorable. We had a brainstorming session. ‘Ideas Mandy’ as I have been called popped up with something that made the company millions and this Dick got a promotion the size of the Eiffel Tower and continued to rewrite history about whose idea it was. Sadly because it was a brainstorming session no minutes were taken and my colleagues alongside me in the meeting agreed I had suggested it but said ‘don’t rock the boat’. I left shortly afterwards.

Of course over the years I have been a boss myself and I realise what a challenge it is to manage teams with different personalities. My first retail management job presented me with so many difficult scenarios. One evening whilst shutting down the shops for the night (we had 5) I told a 18 year old staff member to ring off a till and stop messing around, she promptly told me to F*** off! I quite rightly advised her to go to my office and we would have a chat about it in a few minutes. I was trying hard not to laugh myself as I saw in her not a bad kid but one who wanted to impress her peer group. I still remember the conversation. Bearing in mind I was only 25 myself so 7 years older than her. We sat in my 80s beige office, her eyes bulging and the colour drained from her face as she acknowledged the enormity of what she had just said. I asked her, calmly if I had ever been disrespectful in my dealings with her, she replied no with eyes dipped to the ground, I then asked her why she had felt it necessary to speak to me that way. Of course she had no answer, mumbling ‘dunno’ and yet I did, she was simply showing off. She naturally disliked me for all of a month or so after and I have no doubt slagged me off to high heaven to the team but I also remember she cried the hardest when I left and told me I was the best manager she had ever had. Tough love hurts sometimes but a good manager knows how to not be reactive, to be strong and supportive and ultimately to get the best out of people. Respect has always been a linchpin of my working life. I give it and I hope in turn to receive it. Many of my staff in that first job followed me not just to the next company but the one after that.

The late and brilliant Herb Kelleher the founder of Southwest Airlines has been my business hero for years. Since reading a book called Nuts by Kevin Freiberg years ago I have just adored his brand of eccentricity and people skills. The culture of Southwest has always been one of fun. Herb was a people person and he loved to remember his staff’s birthdays and their family backgrounds. I BET he never boarded a plane where he didn’t talk to every staff member. It paid dividends in the shape of success like no other airline in the USA. Fortune Magazine noted it as being one of the top ten companies to work for in the USA plus it has the lowest employee turnover, the highest on time departures, the highest in customer satisfaction and it hasn’t been bankrupt once (chapter 11 seems to be something a lot of companies get into over the pond)!

Recently I have had the opportunity to meet another ‘Herb’ in the shape of Daniel Butcher. A young Food & Beverage Manager for the company Steam Dreams. Quite simply when I was getting my own radio station business off the ground I decided I was spending too much time alone so I joined this vintage rail company as a casual team member. I was fascinated by this young Australian. He seemed to be intensely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his entire team. He motivated with joy, was not averse to lots of laughter and fun yet had no reservations with dishing out the tough love I talked about earlier and do you know what the upshot was? He got a team of people to work the hardest they had ever done in their lives. I know that to be true as I speak with my colleagues who say the same. It’s a gift to manage that way. With Daniel at the helm you feel really special and that is a rare quality. My endorsement of him is so entirely without reservation. 100% guaranteed for sure.

Daniel has taken voluntary redundancy from his current role because of a restructuring by the new owners of the company and we are all quite simply overwhelmed with sadness.

If you are an employer reading this or you know of a company who needs an incredibly special Food & Beverage Manager then please let me know. Wherever he goes he will not only take sunshine but success. A huge asset for any company.

So back to my question; what makes a good manager? Success can be judged not solely by profit but by customer satisfaction and staff morale. Only when those three elements come together can you call the motivating force a good manager.

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