Learning To Be Effective – comments on Kelley’s How To Be a Star At Work

Learning to be an effective manager is almost entirely a self-guided learning enterprise. Almost no business schools even approach the topic despite the hundreds of courses they offer on almost every functional aspect of management((1))

No Significant Differences between Stars and Average in Intelligence, Problem-solving or Technical Skills

So it was with some anticipation that I read through Robert E. Kelley’s  How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed (Three Rivers Press, 1999).  This book is based on research at Bell Labs in the 1980s, and 3M a bit later, on the differences between “stars” and average managers.  . Learning to be an effective manager is a multi-disciplinary-multi-modal effort. Clearly an important step is to understand what constitutes the approaches, practices, and skills of an effective manager. How To Be a Star at Work - KelleyBased on work with hundreds of managers, Kelley found that there was no significant difference between “star” and average managers in their raw intelligence, problem solving skills, and technical skill attributes.This may seem surprising until you remember that accomplishing real results in the business world is not a based on individual performance but on the collective efforts of a whole organization. There are almost no significant business problems (or technical ones, too) that can be solved by a single individual. In fact, it is the job of a manager to bring together all of the resources required to achieve real results, focus them on the task and push, pull, inveigle, cajole, lead, or any other verb that describes the persuading that goes on to organize groups in action to achieve real results. Viewed from this perspective it seems less surprising that being a “star” manager has more to do with attributes other than raw intelligence, problem-solving, and technical knowledge.

Better Strategies and Skills in nine areas

What Kelley did find was that the stars has better strategies and skills in nine areas:

  1. Initiative – working the white spaces of the organization
  2. Networking – knowing who knows what in the company’
  3. Self-management – managing your whole life at work
  4. Getting the big picture
  5. Followership – checking your ego at the door and leading in assists
  6. Teamwork
  7. Leadership – doing small-“l” leadership in a big”L”world
  8. Organizational savvy
  9. Show-and-Tell: persuading your audience with the right message

There is some overlap among these nine strategies. For instance Followership, Teamwork, and Small “l” leadership are clearly interdependent ideas. But I do not want to quible here. If you compare this list with the attributes of high performance organizations you will find useful correlations and synergies.

This book is widely available through your local library and from bookstores local and online.

  1. see Henry Mintzberg, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development, 1st ed. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004) for more on this. []