Great managers apply principles, not tactics |

Great managers apply principles, not tactics

by Mike Hawkins

As a parent, I’ve been to my share of youth sporting events. While being a spectator has been mostly an enjoyable experience, I recall several games that were more frustrating than enjoyable. The reason: Coaches didn’t coach.-

In particular, they missed opportunity after opportunity to coach core principles of the game to their players. Instead of employing principles, they directed the players in tactics.

For example, rather than coaching an offensive soccer player on the principle of pulling the defense away from the opposing team’s goal, they would tell the player to stand in a particular position. Since they told the players what to do, but not the principle behind it, the players had little idea why they were standing in a particular spot. They were not only unable to reliably employ this tactic again without instruction; they weren’t learning the strategy of the game.-

It reminds me of the old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Great managers employ and teach principles, not merely tactics.

When you direct others in the use of tactics, you miss opportunities. You miss opportunities to ensure the best tactic is used in a given situation. You miss opportunities to build self-sufficiency in others. You waste your time and others’ time in repetitive instruction.-

Tactics provide the “how” or the “what,” but usually not the “why” behind them. In a sales environment, for example, a common tactic might be to give the prospect a company logo pen when you make your first sales call or to give the prospect valuable insight at no-charge. Both provide the what or the how, but not the why.

On the other hand, the principle behind both these tactics, give first, teaches a core principle that goes much deeper. If you understand and employ the principle give first, then you are more likely to come up with the most appropriate tactic in real time based on the specific situation.-

Great managers don’t memorize hundreds of tactics. They learn and apply a few core principles. They know that if they and their employees understand underlying principles, the tactics naturally follow.-

To ensure you are employing principles, think about the instructions you are giving your employees. Do the instructions include the why and not just the what or the how behind them? Are your instructions broad enough to encompass a variety of situations? Do your instructions explain your underlying strategy? If not, you are likely more focused on tactics than principles. Look for the few core principles that underlie the tactics you are using. Focus your employees’ attention on these principles. This will give them more flexibility to better meet the situations they face, and it will make you a more productive and effective manager.

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