Yesterday I was reading some research quoted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in their book, "The Extraordinary Leader". They interviewed 20,000 people and from them, compiled 200,000 evaluations of managers.
They found that if a manager was perceived as having one strength, her rating went up to the 68th percentile. If the leader had three competencies, her rating went up to the 84th percentile.
In other words, to be an effective leader, you don't have to be exceptional at everything, or even 10 things. You'll be regarded as exceptional at three or four things.
Just between us, I think that explains both good managers and managers who are jerks.
In my experience with advertising agencies large and small, and clients small and gigantic, the best managers are those who are good at managing. They don't present themselves as being all things to all people.
There's an Eastern European folk expression than can help me explain: "When you're rich, you're tall and you're handsome and you sing well, too."
We tend to attribute all kinds of gifts to our bosses and managers, and they're very good at attributing these gifts to themselves. Make a financial person the head of the company and all of a sudden he makes decisions on what he knows little about, such as quality, design, marketing, manufacturing; he immediately delegates the financial responsibility to someone less qualified, because he's been promoted.
We've all known about fashion designers who have made decisions that have driven their companies to the brink of disaster. The same thing is true in every industry. The smarter designers find a business partner to do what they're not good at. That was a part of the success of Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, eventually Donna Karan and ultimately Tommy Hilfiger.
Peter Drucker, the founder of the Harvard Business Review, put it best: "It takes far more energy and far more work to improve from incompetence to low mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence."
In other words, let's all stick with what we're good at.