Each time managers are showered with statuets and certificates of excellence (awarded these days by trade journals), I wonder what is at the bottom of their outstanding achievements. What is at the heart of a manager’s success? How much does he or she owe to knowledge, to hard work, to talent, or perhaps to luck? Why is one person an effective manager and leader, a natural-born one if you like, while another is not, even though they have exactly the same qualifications?
As President of ABC Data I am spoit for choice when it comes to answers. Incidentally, analysis of a trade journal’s long record can also offer an interesting glimpse into the matter, because hard as it may be to believe, everything started as early as last century! Undeniably, the decisions the leaders made in those days have contributed to the success of ABC Data today.
And now a bit of a let-down for those of you who expected a lecture from me along the lines of Keys to Managerial Success, or Manager – Leader in the Organisation. Can we look at the subject matter somewhat differently? Say, go back some two hundred years? Great! Thank you. Follow me, please.
It’s the beginning of the 19th century – demise of the Napoleonic era in Europe. Two men in two different countries are working on a solution to the same problem. They have never met before but thanks to their publications they are able to follow each other’s progress. They know that only one of them will go down in history.
Let me say a few words about each of them.
The first is an Englishman, a genius and a polymath. He studeid mathematics, physics and medicine. In each of these fields he carried out his own independent research, in each he won plaudits for his achievements. He holds a clutch of degrees and belongs to the famous Royal Society.
The other is an incorrigible eccentric, and a Frenchman. He too is a genius, but his academic record is not so impressive. His interests don’t range as far and wide as those of the Englishman, focusing mainly on ancient history and linguisitcs. Both men are polyglots, each with a mastery of over ten foreign languages. Which of the two is more likely to achieve greatness?
Now that we know a bit more about the two contenders I can reveal what it is they were so arduously working on. They each had made it their aim to crack the Egyptian hieroglyphics – the writing which had remained a mystery for thousands of years. The Englishman was Thomas Young, who did in fact go down in history but mainly for his discoveries in the field of physics. The Frenchman was of course the famous Jean-François Champollion – the man who ultimately deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Champollin won although, admittedly, Young seemed to be the more likely candidate of the two.
Well, could anyone have thought in 1793 that an unassuming captain commanding an artillery force at Toulon would one day have himself made Emperor to the French people?
Why, in the end, was it Champollion that deciphered the hierogliphics? I think it was a bit of talent that swung the balance in his favour – talent that Thomas Young had plenty of himself, after all. Champollion has simply a wee bit more of it than Young, at least in this particular field, becuase, unlike Young, Champollion did not dabble in physics and mathematics.
We just can’t learn everything. That’s my explanation. Otherwise we would have to concede that the Parisian l’École Militaire made Napoleon. Except that he was not the only one to have graduated from that illustrious school.
End of our journey into the past. Thank you all for your attention. Back to our times.
What makes a manager succcessful, and what makes him a true leader? The sheer amount of work he or she puts into it? For sure. This much is not subject to discussion. But the explanation does not end there. To be able to play chess well is not quite the same as to be a chess champion, although everyone can learn the rules. The secret lies in something that cannot be learnt from books or won through hard work, something thanks to which Champollion had a stroke of inspiration one day but which passed Young by. There had been a lot of people in the past trying to decipher the hieroglyphics. We don’t even know their names today. Young had great achievements in the field. But Champollion was just that little bit better.
In the final calculation, it was just talent that made the difference. And talent is something you are born with. What else can we attribute success to if not the ability that turns a manager into a charismatic leader? What do you call an ability owing to which the manager wins respect and trust while his energy and optimism rub off onto others? Anyone can be a manager. But you will know a leader by that special glint in his eye.
And frankly, do you think you’ve missed out on much by not being lectured to on Keys to Managerial Success?
For more on the 1998 award go to the CRN Polska archives:
Information about this year’s awards can be found at:
A different kind of award for managers and a ranking, both quite interesting:
Contrary to what you might expect, there are not many sources describing the rivalry between Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion. I used Cracking the Egyptian Code by Andrew Robinson for my information (the book was recently published in Polish; the title – Szyfr Egiptu). Of course, Wikipidia is a source of some general information about both men.
And one more interesting book with an in-depth analysis of, among other things, the importance of talent and abilities to being a successful manager: