Posted by: Bill von Achen | February 18, 2011

The Purposeful Manager

I’ve never met an executive or manager whose business life isn’t characterized by long work days and a “to do” list that’s a mile long.  Yet, despite multiple demands on their time, a handful of managers actually succeed in getting things done, while others succeed only in looking busy.

In preparing for next week’s Leadership Development workshop on Managing Time Effectively, I was reminded of research conducted in the 1990s by business professors Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal.  Their research, which was summarized in the article “Beware the Busy Manager,” identified four different types of managers, as follows:

The Procrastinators (low focus, low energy):  30% of managers can be categorized as procrastinators.  Procrastinators usually perform the tasks that are expected of them, but rarely take the initiative or engage in driving results.  However, many procrastinators are actually quite skilled at “learned helplessness,” and require constant attention and prodding. 

The Disengaged (high focus, low energy):  20% of managers are disengaged.  The disengaged burrow into single issues, and are easily overwhelmed when faced with multiple demands on their time.  Disengaged managers are likely to be the first to claim that they’re too busy when asked to take on new tasks or responsibilities.

The Distracted (low focus, high energy):  About 40% of managers fall into this category, the largest of the four groups.  The distracted are action-biased, but rarely have a plan beyond an initial response.  And, because they don’t have a strategy for dealing with complex challenges, the distracted almost always find themselves overcommitted.

The Purposeful (high focus, high energy):  Representing just 10% of all managers, purposeful managers are capable of making the seemingly impossible happen.  They focus on outcomes and achievement, not simply the completion of tasks.  They are acutely aware of what they want to accomplish, and refuse to let others set the agenda. 

What traits make purposeful managers successful?  For Bruch and Ghoshal, it depends on two elements.  The first element, focus, is about zeroing in on key goals, and staying on task until they’re achieved.   The second, energy, is “vigor fueled by personal commitment” to get the job done.  It’s the combination of high focus and high energy that sets purposeful managers apart from the rest of the pack.

As you look at the performance of the managers in your organization, how many purposeful managers can you count on?  Equally important, how do you rate your own performance on the Focus/Energy matrix, and what influence does your style have on those around you?  Share your thoughts and ideas on these questions here.  Thanks!


  1. The Procrastinators (low focus, low energy): reminds me of high maintenance Peter Principle types
    The Disengaged (high focus, low energy): no bandwidth
    The Distracted (low focus, high energy): no depth nor depth of bench
    The Purposeful (high focus, high energy): yes the omnicient omnipotent multitasker

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