Written Report on ‘What Effective General Managers Really Do” by John P. Kotter

Table of Content


General Managers face a challenge of deciding what to do when they are constantly being faced with a huge amount of potentially important information. In order to tackle this challenge, effective General Managers develop and implement flexible agendas. GMs create their agendas both consciously and unconsciously through a mostly internal process. They set goals and loosely connect them to the plan of their long-, medium-, and short-term responsibilities.

Therefore, an agenda of a typical GM differs from the formal plans produced by the organization. Such flexible agenda of a GM differs not in a way that it is incompatible with the one of the organization, but in the following way. Namely, formal plans contain detailed financial numbers, focus mostly on short and moderate time horizon and are logical, explicit and rigorous. On the other had, GM’s agenda contains strategies and plans for the business, focuses primarily on the immediate future and longer run, and is made of goals and plans that are not explicitly connected. In addition, in order to update their agendas GMs continually gather information received mostly from discussions with others, rather than reports and books (see main point 2)

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Another challenge of General Managers is to be able to do things through a wide and diverse set of people even though they don’t execute direct control over most of them. In order to successfully face this challenge successful General Managers develop a broad network of relationships. They spend a lot of time and effort developing cooperative relationships with both external (government, press, public, suppliers, competitors, etc.

) and internal (bosses, peers, immediate subordinates and subordinates of subordinates) actors. Therefore, such network is not consistent with the formal organizational structure. Network-building is taking a lot of time at the beginning but later such connections are constantly being used to implement and update GMs agendas (see main point 1). Having quick and direct conversations aimed at efficient information exchange with different people gives the GM influence that reaches far beyond his formal control boundaries.

Apart from serious discussions, GMs also engage in short non-work discussion, which even though may seem like a waste of time, are in fact really important and efficient. All this process of building and sustaining such network under stressful conditions requires sense of humor. Additionally, taking into consideration GMs work long hours, these behaviors may be crucial to avoid burnout.

What a typical successful GM does is much different from what textbooks imply. Kotter presents the following patterns of behavior of a successful GMs, which are different than what is being taught at business schools and written in textbooks. Namely, most of the time of a successful GMs is spent with others (see main point 2), many of them being unimportant outsiders. Moreover, GMs discussions are of extremely wide scope, sometimes remotely related to their business. What is more, GMs ask many questions and during the conversation rarely seem to make “big decisions” during conversations.

Executives rarely give orders in a traditional sense but influence others by requesting, persuading and intimidating. Surprisingly, much of the typical GM’s day is unplanned and even if they have tight schedule of meetings, they always devote a lot of time to topics that are outside of the official agenda. All this is done to deal with high uncertainty inherent in their work.


As the last point mentions, typical GM’s day is unplanned. This is a surprising fact for many people since there is an idea of a manager as someone extremely busy and therefore one that has to be very organized in order to successfully deal with everything. How not having and following a detailed plan may the best plan of all?

This dilemma reminds me of our previous reading Strategy Safari by Mintzberg, Ahlstadt, Lampel in which the authors state: “Strategies can be vital to organizations by their absence as well as their presence”. In both cases of agenda and strategy I personally wouldn’t use words such as “unplanned” or ones implying lack of strategy because they have a negative connotation. Rather, I would give them a name of being “flexibly planned” or “planned with room for flexibility”. By this I mean that one has a goal for the day, week, month, etc.

, accompanied by a loose framework that can be changed and has room for other additional things. Furthermore, in my opinion, setting goals instead of carefully planning every single detail should also be applied in our every day life. I see in many people fall into “over-planning”, meaning that they spends so much time planning a day or a task that they need to perform, leaving no room for flexibility, and in the end when something changes, new and unexpected factors emerge, they are unable to adjust their plans. It results in considering the time, which was previously spent on creating a careful plan, simply wasted.

What is worse, many times an individual that doesn’t fulfill his plan gets discouraged and demotivated because one didn’t adhere to the plan. I would suggest that a successful manager and leader has in his mind a constantly evolving plan, which setts main objectives and leaves room for changes and unexpected events. I do not fully agree with Kotter’s statement of “growing” one’s own executive as something that should be given high priority. Of course there is a huge benefit if a GM has been with the organization for very long and has managed to develop an extensive and valuable network (see main comment 2).

Nevertheless, there are notable advantages of coming from outside and brining new ways of doing things and new experience. As a confirmation of my point of view, research suggests that “CEO’s recruited from outside the company perform about the same as those who came up through the ranks”.  Furthermore, in some instances outside CEOs even outperform the insiders at companies with recent history of poor performance. At the time of crisis, bringing a GM from outside stimulates change, by bringing fresh knowledge and a different outside perspective.

 I fully agree with Kotter that business schools are overemphasizing formal tools and problem solving techniques and forget about the importance of human relationships. Building strong and fruitful relationships in GM’s extensive network requires some knowledge of psychology and emotional intelligence (“being able to identify access and control emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups”[2]). Knowing different personality types that GMs subordinates posses and how to successfully motivate them and deal with possible problems, related to their ways of doing things, is crucial for a successful leader.

According to Kotter, successful General Managers are “rarely giving orders but spending a lot of time trying to influence people”. They use this network to exert this indirect influence and as Kotter notices “excellent” managers highly rely on indirect influence, rather than directly giving orders. How, where and when do you learn this valuable skill of being able to indirectly influence people? (4) This comment concerns a retrospective commentary linking his article from 1982 to the current concept of leadership and the fact that at that time there was no differentiation between management and leadership, a distinction so common nowadays.

Kotter points out that managers look inside, while leaders are also able to look outside. Clearly, there are more differences that also Warren Bennis in his book “On Becoming a Leader” (1989) highlights. These are, for instance: the manager maintains while the leader develops, the manager focuses on systems and structure while the leader focuses on people. I fully agree with the fact that leaders are for the people and in order to create a successful connection between them, leaders “communicate obsessively”, as Kotter points out.

Moreover, I agree with Mintzberg, who highlights in one of our previous readings “The Five Minds of a Manager” that “separation management from leadership is dangerous”. In my opinion leadership and management are different animals” but are complementary and due to a strong link between the two, should not be separated. Nowadays, when workers are no longer slaves in the industrial machine, employees expect from their managers not only task supervision but also purpose definition. The job of a manager is to inspire and as Austrian management guru Peter Drucker states: “The task is to lead people.

And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual. ” In my opinion, people feel connected to a leader most effectively through emotions. Therefore, building personal relationship, even short ones, with employees makes devoting time to chatting in hallways not a “wasted time”.


  1. http://sloanreview. mit. edu/article/when-is-an-outsider-ceo-a-good-choice/, accessed on 04. 14. 2013)
  2. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence, accessed on 04. 14. 2013)

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Written Report on ‘What Effective General Managers Really Do” by John P. Kotter. (2016, Sep 03). Retrieved from


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