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Become a better manager

If you're fed up with management self-help manuals that serve-up re-warmed gobbledegook then you're not alone. But 'Management Masterclass' is one of those rare books that all managers should read. E&T explains why.

Was that it? Or so I wondered as I turned the first few pages of this book, starting with a note about the author, Emma De Vita of Management Today fame, acknowledgements and a two-page foreword by Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy: good serious stuff befitting a management master class, culminating with the advice to never stop learning, and commending the book. De Vita goes further, urging readers to 'view the book as a shortcut to becoming a brilliant manager'. It doesn't claim to be comprehensive. It's meant to be kept to hand when you find yourself in need of help or inspiration. You can delve in and get the necessary information. And they want to entertain you while you are learning.

The book's content draws chiefly on some of the best contributions from Management Today. It is divided into five chapters, the first dedicated to 'You' - to help you become a brilliant manager, teach you how to delegate, make decisions, and inspire those who work for you. The second chapter is dedicated to 'Us'. This is not just about your own but your team's performance and how to get the best from them. You can't work in isolation.

The third chapter focuses on 'Numbers' - cash flow, budgets, spreadsheets, deals, negotiations and pay. The fourth chapter covers 'Challenges' - problem-solving challenges, dealing with difficult people and crisis situations, like recessions and redundancies - to help you get through the worst, keep calm and carry on. Your route to the top may well depend on your ability to handle tricky people. Get to the heart of the matter; control the control freak; don't get dumped on, silence the sceptic, calm the stress cadet and don't get taken in by empty flair.

This leaves the fifth and final chapter to concern itself with 'Getting Ahead' - that is, discussing what you need to get ahead, stand out and become successful.

This could be just the long-awaited refresher ideal for at least three types of professional: management survivors slightly detached from the daily battle scene and in danger of losing both plot and job; mid-life job swappers who need to catch up on the latest buzzwords and regain a modicum of self-confidence; and school-leavers whose three Rs may not be too bright but compensated for by adequate emotional intelligence and potential communication skills. They all need just that extra dimension provided by the 'Management Masterclass'. The mid-life job swapper certainly stands to benefit.

Progress chasers

Hurtful suggestions that former car-production progress chasers could always go for supermarket night-shifts are wide of the mark; did you think that leading high-street retailers fighting to keep ahead of competitors don't need progress-chasers?

What's so good about this book is that it covers all possible needs and eventualities. Can you define emotional intelligence? 'Emotional intelligence is a label to sum up the range of interpersonal skills and responses that form our public persona. Emotionally intelligent people show empathy and tact, are self-aware and in control of their feelings... They are deft operators in our pressurised modern world, rising to the top while making as few enemies as possible.'

It shows you ten ways to dress for success, including 'aim for slightly smarter than needed, but don't out-dress your boss; and a crash course to get something done' but don't expect anything as comprehensive on the subject as you might expect to read in Management Today.

That, though, is the great advantage of this book - succinctness and brevity, whether you are looking for 'Ten'Ways to Motivate', or to inspire, or you need a crash-course in making good decisions, or in networking, or in keeping your staff engaged, or in handling exit interviews.

If you've never felt confident enough to face the prospect of chairing a meeting, ten suggested ways leave the most important one to last, namely 'remember you're in charge', but also be clear about the next steps, having given everyone a fair shout and pre-empted awkward questions.

The best chapter is on 'Numbers, or Managing the Figures,' which includes the 101 on setting a budget. It's not rocket science: 'it's really just putting numbers to a business plan', according to the good book. Two of the first rules seem to be the most important: 'Put strategy first' and 'Forget last year' (well, except as a reference point). The most interesting of the ways to get a bigger budget? Get real expenditure quotes. But the cashflow tips are even better. First bill promptly and agree terms up front, and avoid slow or non-paying customers.

One of the most important pieces of advice falls under the heading 'Ten ways to cut your costs by 20 per cent', and quite rightly these injunctions are spelled out in some detail, the first being to create a cost-conscious workplace culture where everyone is responsible for challenging costs. Even more to the point 'Celebrate cost reductions as you do business wins'.

Good advice too - to jettison suppliers only as a last resort. I sat next to a director once as he took an angry call from a milkman who wanted to be paid. The director was equally furious to be interrupted during a meeting. The milkman threatened to stop delivering unless he got paid. The obstinate director did nothing and was surprised when the milkman stopped delivering; and even more surprised to find there was no other milk delivery service in the area - and no supermarkets or dairies either.

Tough values

'Know your worth' is not a bad piece of advice, especially in the context of striving to get a pay-rise, and understanding not just your value in the market, but also the value of your job in the marketplace - there is a difference. It goes without saying, you need to cultivate allies - who else has influence? And you need to choose your moment and decide what you are willing to accept. Above all, stay positive.

Now we come to the real test of management calibre - a crash course in managing a crisis. Can you really plan for it? Well, more to the point, plan ahead as you might for a business continuity plan in the case of fire or systems failure. You need a communications plan to reach all your stakeholders quickly and get the media on your side.

To get to the top you need vital tough values and you may have to make a fresh start. Tough values? Well, self-belief for a start. Are you worth listening to? Have you got resilience, focus and control? This is almost certainly the most important lesson in the Masterclass, especially as it includes detailed guidance on developing nerves of steel, independence and competitiveness, plus chillability, which is about switching focus on and off as required.

Despite all this - and ideally a closer study of this book - you still find yourself in a rut, the solution may be to reinvent yourself. Masterclass even offers ten ways to do it. Here's one to consider: take life less seriously, but put more into it.

'The Management Masterclass: Great business ideas without the hype', edited by Emma De Vita, is published by Headline Business Plus, £10.00

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