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Book Review
The General Managers

This is the book that started it all for Dr. John Kotter. It’s still a classic.

When Dr. Kotter set out to study general managers there was at least one thing he was pretty sure he’d find. He was sure they’d be great time managers. After all, that was the great management effectiveness builder of the age.

Back then, time management was supposed to involve the careful auditing and controlling of time use. Good time managers were expected to carefully plan their days and then rigorously work their plan. But what Kotter discovered was something very different.

He discovered that effective general managers seemed more flexible than their peers. They were constantly engaging in ad-hoc, hallway meetings and using those occasions to covey their important messages.

What Kotter had stumbled upon was less a variation in good time management practice than it was an effective communications strategy. Senior managers, indeed, any managers, can only effectively communicate a few important things in the time available.

Kotters general managers knew this. So they made sure they knew what the most important messages were that they needed to get across.

They also understood that their important messages needed to be simple and repeated over and over again. They learned to seize whatever opportunities presented themselves and use them to share their key message.

Time management has come a long way since this book was written. Just compare any time management book from the 70s with David Allen’s “The Art of Getting Things Done.”

Communications channels have changed as well. Now there is voicemail and email. There are wireless phones, Wi-Fi hotspots, and email-enabled pagers.

If the general managers that Kotter studied were dropped into today’s world, I’m sure they would face Rip-van-Winkle-like adjustments. They’d have to learn a lot about technology.

But they’d still understand that basics of good supervision, management and leadership. That’s what this book is about and why it’s worth reading.

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