Many years ago, I was required to take a leadership and management class. Pretty much all I remember from it was learning Mazlow’s hierarchy and hearing the assertion that a manager doesn’t have to know anything about the business/industry being managed, since his/her job is to manage the people. (I recognized early on that I sucked as a manager, and I avoided any opportunities to follow that path. Some of us are born to be minions.)
On one level, I suppose I can agree with that - people are people, right? But in my gut, I felt like the assertion was flawed. A person who’s a great manager at a dairy won’t necessarily be a great manager in a manufacturing plant, nor could you expect a bank manager to be successful at managing a restaurant, could you?
I think you need to know the industry and the people who work in it to manage successfully. One specific data point was when I worked at an aircraft overhaul depot and our department manager was hired away from a locomotive manufacturing facility. The man tried to apply what he’d done with trains to airplanes and he refused to listen to the people who knew the peculiarities of working on aircraft. Eventually, those above him realized he was pretty close to worthless and he was shifted to a position where he couldn’t do any harm. Then again, was he a bad manager just because he was a bad manager? We have no idea how well he performed before being hired into our organization. Maybe he was incompetent from the get go?
On the other hand, my brother has been a CFO/CEO/President at various times for a hospital, an environmental firm, and a software firm. He’s a CPA with an MBA and he’s always being head-hunted, which leads me to believe his strengths lie in management.
Which brings me back to the title of this thread - do you think a manager need to know about the business he/she is managing? Do share your illustrative anecdotes.