“A manager is not a person who can do the work better than his men; he is a person who can get his men to do the work better than he can.”
Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Federal Express

Most business people whom I know spend the time taken to travel from home to the office either making phone calls from their car, or checking their emails if they are not actually driving. One of my golden rules of self-management is to NOT look at emails as a first priority (see “Fifth secret of time management” posted November 11, 2010), and I have also long believed that people who feel obliged to call me from their car on their way to work are either doing it to impress me with how busy they are, or are just making a “boredom call” while stuck in heavy traffic.

Author: Sun Ladder (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Sun Ladder (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I have long believed that the first part of the day for anyone, irrespective of their role and corporate ladder status, is to use the time to address the important things before the brain gets cluttered with the urgent things, and before any chance for some creative thinking gets buried by the daily avalanche of red-hot tactical issues that will need addressing as a standard part of most business days.

However, beyond making sure that you actually use your time well, and that you do get to prioritise your time in such a way that it enables you to address those priorities that will define your own personal measurement and success, there is one critical area that I believe all who are in a people management role must seriously consider on a daily basis.

I found that doing it while travelling to work every day not only enabled me to build it into my schedule as a ritual, but also prepared me for the most important element of my role as a manager, as I believe that the best way to spend that first critical daily time slot is to think about the people that you have been asked to lead, and to consider your own personal role in making their chance of success easier to achieve.

Author: Christopher Michel; Source:; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Christopher Michel; Source:; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Here are the sort of questions that I believe every manager should ask himself every day, on the way to work.

– What is the climate in my area of responsibility ? What do I need to address/change that is hindering my people from doing well ? Are there barriers that I need to help remove ? Are we getting the support and co-operation from other departments/divisions, that we need to do our job well ? Is my business unit seen as being “business critical” ? Are we seen as being strategic, so are we viewed as being part of “change the company” more than just “run the company” ? How is conflict handled in my team ? Is my team co-operative rather than competitive ? How self-managing are they ?

– How are my people faring ? Is anyone struggling ? Am I effectively dealing with people who are not performing well ? (see “Move them up or move them out” posted August 23, 2010). Am I giving my people regular and ongoing feedback on their behaviour ? On their successes ? Are we meeting deadlines and benchmarks ? Are we seen as creators of talent for the company ? Do the people in my team support and help each other ? Do they share information well ?

– Are my people inspired to achieve our team goals ? Are they “building a brick wall or a cathedral” ? How good is morale and is it consistent across the group ? Do people readily pick up new responsibilities ? Do they buy in to the company vision ? Are they proud to work for the company ? Are they committed to the team and its mission ? Do they come in to work “with a song in their heart” ? Do they love what they do ?

– Do they all understand their roles and their responsibilities ? Do all my people understand their own personal objectives, as well as those of the team ? Does everyone understand “what is in it for them”, beyond their financial incentives ? is there enough freedom for people to influence how they do their job ? Do they respect their direct manager ? Do they respect and trust senior management ?

By VeronicaTherese (Own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By VeronicaTherese (Own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Have I provided all the resources and tools that they need ? Are there barriers to what they do ? What do my people lack that could make things easier ? Do they have the technology needed to do the job ? Have we supported their need for mobility ? Is the physical environment supportive ? Does the physical environment encourage team interaction ? Are there enough quiet zones ? Can people get privacy when needed ? Am I protecting the team from unnecessary interference from all sides ?

– Are they smarter, faster, more capable today than they were yesterday ? Can they update their CVs regularly with new skills and knowledge ? Am I challenging them enough for their personal growth ? Am I making new assignments available ? Am I across their training and development aspirations as well as their needs ? Am I effectively preparing them for the future ? Do I have effective mentoring and coaching programmes in place, and if so how are they doing ? Am I building future leaders ? Have I identified and prepared my potential successors ?

…. And finally and most importantly ….

– What is the single most significant thing that I can do for them today ?

In the words of Chairman and CEO of IBM, Thomas J. Watson (1874-1956) “A manager is an assistant to his men.”



  1. Holger Adams says:

    Did you send this on purpose an hour earlier as usual? 🙂


  2. Duncan Noble says:

    Well said. Too many managers spend more time and energy thinking about how they can get ahead, instead of how the people they have been asked to lead can prosper. Great reminder to create and use some quiet time at the beginning of the day for reflection and thinking. It’s my favorite time of day.

    • leshayman says:

      Duncan, mine too. Great time for reflection and planning, and even in semi-retirement I still get up early to be able to do so when fresh. I am amazed at how many managers do not understand that their success is totally dependant on their people rather than on themselves. Les

  3. Patrick says:

    Nothing to add but enjoyed reading very much. Thanks!

  4. sdale2013 says:

    Les thanks for this – words of wisdom indeed. I also just finished reading ‘Time to Think’ by Nancy Klein and it encourages you to start every day with a thinking partner who can help you overcome your assumptions that may be holding you back. Just 30m with each taking turns to listen to the other for 15m, to help them think through what is important. Will be trying this out!



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