Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: A book review by Bob Morris

Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need to Stand Out
Various Contributors
Harvard Business School Press (2017)

“So much of what we call management consists in making it more difficult for people to work.” Peter Drucker

It is important to keep in mind that that this is literally a book for people who need to take a hand’s-on approach when managing themselves and other people when there’s work to be done.  The same is true of a companion volume, Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook, to be published later this year. Credit the HBR editors associated with one or both with a brilliant organization and presentation of the expertise of Harvard Business Review authors. That is, “best practices an\d foundational concepts from classic articles as well as emerging ideas and research.”

As they explain, “Whether you’re new to management or a seasoned veteran, the HBR Manager’s Handbook will help you learn the essential skills that all effective managers must master. This book is for you if you’re ambitious and want to become more efficient, more effective, more inspiring. You’re already a manager [or now preparing to become one] but perhaps you want to be a leader, too — someone who brings out the best in your employees and drives change within your company. The HBR Manager’s Handbook will show you how.

The material is carefully organized within four Parts: First,”you’ll learn about the basic building blocks of good management and leadership; then “you’ll continue to work on essential skills essential to your own performance as a rising leader in an organization”; next, the material focuses “moves on to one of your major responsibilities as a manager: to elicit the best performance from each of your direct reports”; the material in Part Four “moves beyond your one-on-one relationships with your employees and looks instead at how to organize and support the work they do together”; and then in Part Five, “you’ll dive into the hard skills to measure and boost your team’s performance within the organization, starting with strategic planning, execution, and thinking.”

With regard to differences between leadership and management, experts agree that leaders tend to focus on WHAT must be done and managers on HOW to do it efficiently and effectively. In this context, Peter Drucker offers some useful observations. First, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Also, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

The editors make brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices throughout the volume. They include boxed mini-commentaries (“Four Sources of Stress,” Pages 15-17) and “Navigating the schools of strategic thought,” 270-274), Voices (brief excerpts from relevant sources), Tips (“How to protect your time from other people,” 108-`09), Recap (key points in a chapter), Action Items, Questionnaires (“Find your purpose,” 122-123), Exhibits (14-2, “Principles of job enrichment,” 249), and micro-case studies (“How to build emotional intelligence,” 38, and “Focusing team members on a shared goal,” 213). These devices can facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

How best to read this volume? Straight through is one option but not, in my opinion, the best one. The book’s subtitle refers to 17 skills that leaders need to master in order to stand out. Yes, there are 17 chapters but don’t assume that means there is a separate chapter devoted to each of the 17 skills.

I presume to suggest that, for most people who are about to read this book, the best approach is to complete a self-assessment. In a lined notebook that should always be near at hand when reading any business book, review the Contents and Index, then then write down your answers to these three questions:

o What do I think are the ten (10) most important management skills?
o On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 for Outstanding), how do you rate yourself for each?
o Which material in this book can you to improve any of the skills for which you rate myself less than 5?

You have identified areas of greatest need and located where to locate the material on which to focus. Proceed accordingly.

Meanwhile, I urge you to keep in mind that personal growth and professional development require a continuous process. They are emphatically not a destination.

* * *

Be sure to check out The Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook: Make an Impact, Inspire Your Organization, and Get to the Next Level, published November 6, 2018.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend these HBR Guides to Getting the Right Work Done and to Leading Teams as well as HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management (including featured article “Leading Change,” by John P. Kotter), on Managing People (with featured article Leadership That Gets Results, by Daniel Goleman), on Managing Yourself (with bonus article “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen), and on Leadership (with featured article “What Makes an Effective Executive,” by Peter F. Drucker).

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