Great Management 101

19 Sep

If you haven’t heard of Nero Wolfe, look him up.  I’ll wait.  Back?  Good.  You might or might not like Nero Wolfe, but he definitely commands respect.  The man, aside from being a genius, is an incredible manager, and we can all learn something from him when we find ourselves in a position supervising others.

What do we know about Wolfe?

  1. He is a genius, nonpareil in the field of detective work.
  2. He views detective work as a means of subsidizing his expensive lifestyle (requiring over $50,000 to live in 1943?  Obscene!)
  3. He has habits.  Oh does he have habits, and a schedule that is so rarely disturbed that when something does upset it, it merits comment.
  4. He employs Archie Goodwin, Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather as leg men, Fritz as a butler and chef, and Theodore Horstmann as orchid nurse.

Aside from noting how eccentric this makes him, think about why he’s such a good manager.

Obviously, being a genius means he knows what he’s doing.  What about his prices?  Well, he’s the best, and he charges accordingly.  We can all learn something about being unafraid to value ourselves appropriately, and if we’re good at what we do, we should ask for what we’re worth instead of what we think we can get.  Wolfe gets away with it because there is no one else who does what he can with the same degree of competence.

His habits prove that he has effectively made a schedule that everyone is aware of, and honors.  He’s set his hours, his staff and clients know his availability and they work around it because he will always be available when he says he is.  He also frees himself to focus on the task at hand, instead of doing 50 things at once, allowing for the production of quality work.  Something else we learn is that he doesn’t allow his work life to dominate his personal interests or time unless absolutely necessary (there’s a great storyline with Arnold Zeck where Wolfe must completely break with his established patterns in order to save his own life).  He enriches his work by having outside interests, and realizing that passions don’t have to be about our day-to-day jobs.  This gives him some perspective.

Last, and most important, he employs the best possible people to do for him what cannot or will not do himself.  Archie, Saul, Fred and Orrie handle the investigation part of the work; they diligently pursue lines of inquiry as assigned by Wolfe, and then report to him once completed or as instructed.  Wolfe keeps their assignments from overlapping, and he synthesizes the information, coming to the solution.  Fritz and Theodore make his life easier by performing tasks he cannot always do: with his appetite and sans Fritz, Wolfe would be cooking for himself all day and have no time to earn the money for his food; without Theodore, his hobby wouldn’t be possible because the orchids would die without the care he gives them.  From this, we learn that it’s ok to delegate as long as we put our trust in people who are competent, and that we don’t have to do everything ourselves, even in our personal lives.  If we can streamline processes and free ourselves to do what we do best, then we’re on our way to being great managers.

What do you learn from people who you think are great managers?  Are there similarities?  I’m curious to see what other people think.


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