The Dullest, Most Vital Skill You Need to Become a Successful Manager

The exemplary manager is often shown delivering a rousing speech that inspires her troops to achieve ever greater heights. But the truth is a lot less exciting than that.

To three highly effective and successful executives, a boring, often-overlooked ability is one of the most vital skills you can have as a manager — the ability to write.

“Written communication to engineering is superior [to verbal communication] because it is more consistent across an entire product team, it is more lasting, it raises accountability.”

— Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz

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Written communication creates lasting consistency across an entire team because a piece of writing is leveragable collateral from which everyone, from marketing to sales to QA to engineering, can work and consult.

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Jeff Bezos’s Peculiar Management Tool for Self-Discipline

The modern workplace’s vogue is informal information exchange. We sit in open floor plan offices so that we can spontaneously collide, chat, and collaborate. The office setup for a meet-cute of ideas can be fizzy and energizing, though when sparks aren’t flying, the colliding can be noisy and distracting.

Jeff Bezos takes a totally different approach to management far from that madding crowd. He has a contrarian management technique that’s peculiarly old school — write it down.

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In Amazon senior executive meetings, before any conversation or discussion begins, everyone sits for 30 minutes in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed memos. Reading together in the meeting guarantees everyone’s undivided attention to the issues at hand, but the real magic happens before the meeting ever starts.  It happens when the author is writing the memo.

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The Awkward Leader

Being a manager is difficult because it feels unnatural.  Your job isn’t actually to get work done.  You’re doing your job as a manager when what you’re doing doesn’t resemble work at all.

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To Andy Grove, legendary CEO of Intel, a manager’s fundamental work of information gathering can be among the most unnatural and that awkwardness is a necessary part of being a leader.  Information gathering is the bread and butter of a manager’s work, but doing it effectively can mean making yourself vulnerable to looking and feeling like you’re doing nothing.

Grove instructs managers that “[t]here is an especially efficient way to get information, much neglected by most managers” that is underutilized “because of the awkwardness that managers feel about [it].” That is, be out in the open in your company, doing nothing.

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