We creative types struggle with the paradoxical relationship between making art and running a business. And while we gain comfort from fictional characters like Howard Roark or books like Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, most of us are unwilling or unable to accept the sacrifices and asceticism of Roark, or do the difficult work of self discovery required to discover what it is that we love doing.
With Managing Right for the First Time, David Baker has produced a practical, smart, readable, usable, helpful, and refreshingly irreverent guide for both new managers and those who are willing to return to the basics. This is the book I wish I had been given when I embarked on that first assignment that required a team of more than one.
Tempting though it may be to use this as a reference manual, don’t. At least not until you have read the entire book. If you have skipped the preface and introduction, by the time you reach the chapter entitled “Special Message for Control Freaks”, and his altar call in chapter 20 on “Maintaining Work Life Balance” you may be shocked and bemused by Baker’s core principle: most managers in creative businesses suffer from “stimulation deficit disorder” and “It’s dangerous to medicate your S.D.D. with your chosen profession.”
This is tough love, and painful if not impossible to accept for those who have repressed their inner artist all their lives and now find themselves miserable in management roles that are neither creative nor successful. Yet the ground is littered with the wreckage of artists and entrepreneurs who have started companies so they can do what they enjoy, and then flown them into the ground by failing to understand the difference between doing and managing, and accepting the responsibility to lead. Baker writes without apology that management is
”largely a thankless job that doesn’t depend directly on outside feedback. It’s more self motivated and is driven by your own innate sense of doing the right thing no matter how many others even see what you do… Management is not easy, and very few people do it extremely well. A common thread in those who do, though, is this understanding of the difference between doing and managing… So do you want to do or manage?”
What Baker fails to address at all, and perhaps by choice, is any discussion of the innate gifts and talents of extraordinary leaders. These legends are no more just the product of training, luck and experience than are Michael Jordan, Jeff Immelt, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, each was clearly in the right place at the right time, and each had the remarkable and well documented discipline, tenacity and resolve necessary to accomplish amazing things. But so did scores of others who lacked the genetic material to leverage their environment and drive. Nor does he spend much time celebrating the intrinsic rewards, the joy and pleasure successful managers gain by being a part of the growth and success of their protégés. There is a good chance, however, that if you are reading his book, you already understand this and have the right stuff. So in his inimitable way he doesn’t waste words restating the obvious.
Baker has distilled his vast experience as an employee, a manager, a parent, and as a successful consultant to over 500 small businesses to produce the one management book he notes, with characteristic immodestly, is worth reading. “Besides what you are cradling in your hands at the moment, most are full of fluff, fad, or fantasy. There are a few notable exceptions, though, like this one. But mainly they don’t resonate with my own experience and so I don’t know what to do with the suggestions.” He doesn’t waste words, so even this boast is a lesson for managers.
“Leaders are direct. Not rude, but direct. Being direct is motivated by a desire to truly communicate in a means whereby everything that’s necessary is included without any ancillary information or clutter.”
When you are ready, truly ready to make the shift from doing to leading, read and follow the advice in this book. If you are testing the management waters, read it to learn the unvarnished truth about what you may be getting into. If you want to avoid management and continue as a doer, read it to remind yourself why the status quo is the right place for you.
It’s one of the best books on management I’ve read, and like a small handful of books on a variety of subjects, I will read it again.