A business suit

The Fundamental Skills Of a Manager

If you were to take a basic management class there are five functions you would engage in as a manager. They are:

  • Planning,
  • Organizing,
  • Controlling,
  • Directing, and
  • Coordinating

“I don’t like to be managed. But if you lead me, I’ll follow you anywhere.” –A comment heard in the halls of a large corporation

Written by Murray Johannsen. I welcome connections via LinkedIn or directly on this website. And DON’T MISS OUT on insightful content on our Linkedin feeds. Themes for posts are: 21st Century Skills: What’s Needed and What’s Not; AI Savvy: Essential Skills For AI at Work; and Bootstrapping Your Dreams: Growing  Digital Business Skills.

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What Can Be Managed

A symbol of management, the business model is a simplification of how an organization in business interacts with its environment. Or more simply, how it makes money.

While the military services have a clear definition of leadership, the management schools across the world are not. You hear it all the time among the b-school professoriat. They always talk about, “Managing people.”

So don’t buy into the crap management professors like to use about people wanting to be managed. Nobody liked to be managed. We manage objects and resources — we lead people.

Management is something we do when we are focused on some type of work.

  • Money,
  • Time,
  • Paperwork,
  • Materials, and
  • Equipment utilization, etc.

Basic Management Skills

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Seems kind of simple so far. I mean, how hard can planning be? Not very hard but there is a great deal of truth to the American saying that goes, “Most men don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Evidently, women are better at this than men since the saying only refers to those with the XY chromosome. 

But there are also certain conceptual skills such as that are unbelievably important and could be considered more managerial than leadership. Two come to mind: decision making and problem-solving. 

Some professors like to say “Managers are decision-makers.” but that doesn’t seem quite right. A better description is, “Executives are decision-makers — managers are problem solvers.”

Decision Making. Executives are clearly decision-makers. So after working for about 20 years, you get the c-level title can now one can make decisions. 

Problem Solving. This is what you will be doing most of the time until you get to be an executive. After all, someone has to simplify the complex to a point where the executive can choose option A or option B. 

Some things should be managed and other things should not. For example, people should not be managed — it implies we treat them as things. 

“No one talks about managing fun and play.” — Anonymous

Entrepreneurs Need More Than Management Skills

The focus on management is important but can be a trap for the entrepreneur. To understand why this is the case, we need to understand the fundamental context in which management is taught.

Essentially, a management degree creates a person with a set of competencies that work well in long-established organizations. The theory base works best in large organizations with an established culture, hierarchy, policies, processes, and procedures. It works less well when one must create all these things from scratch.

Obviously, an entrepreneur needs managerial expertise. But it’s a special type of knowledge typically not taught well in b-schools. For example, one does not need 3 accounting classes to run a small business, nor do you need to know a lot about organizational development (which focuses almost exclusively on large companies). Some economics is helpful, but you probably don’t need 3 or 4 classes. Guerilla marketing is valuable, but it’s normally not taught. Sales skills would be really helpful, but that is not taught either. And of course, human relations skills such as leadership or team building are not covered in the core MBA.

However, one gets good coverage on how to work in large businesses selling products for a shelf; or hocking services to the minions via large budgets, big staffs, and a humongous IT infrastructure.

I remember once running across a soon-to-hit pavement MBA who was the product of a top MBA program. He described to me how he was going to China to fly to different cities and meet with potential customers. And then he said, “I’m really looking forward to this marketing job.” I said, “It sounds like sales to me.” To which he indignantly responded, “I don’t do sales.”

Recently Clay Christiansen, of the Harvard Business School, opened a conference on innovation in learning with a question: “Why is a success so hard to sustain?” His provisional answer was “The reason companies cannot sustain success is that they follow the principles of good management that we teach at Harvard Business School.” (Hauser, 2012)


Learning management (and leadership skills) should be viewed as a lifetime endeavor. But is only one of five other skills one needs to build.

I remember the words my mother installed deeply into my mind starting when I was a little boy. Perhaps your mother had similar words. She told me on many occasions, “Work hard — You’ll succeed.”

After putting these words into practice for many years, I discovered she was only half right. A better affirmation is, “Work hard — Work smart — You’ll succeed.” And to work smart, you must continually upgrade your knowledge and skills.

On Site Resources

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Resources and References

Harvard Business Review Articles on Managing People

Hunisicker, Frank (1978). What Successful Managers Say About Their Skills, Personal Journal, November: 618-621.

Margarison, Charles & Kakabadse, Andrew (1984). How American Managers Succeed. New York: AMA Publications.

Prentice, Majorie (1984). An Empirical Search For a Relevant Managerial Curriculum. Collegiate News and Views, Winter: 25-29.

Whetten, David & Cameron, Kim (2011). Developing Management Skills, 8th Edition. Prentice-Hall.

Work Skills For the 21st Century