In theory: Fat smoker syndrome

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Fat smoker syndrome is an intriguing name for a management theory. Is it the name of a training course that sends you off into the hills with 20 B&H and a stack of pizzas, emerging a weekend later as a top manager? No. Author David Maister, a consultant billed irresistibly as "the man the country's top advisers go to for advice", has written a book called Strategy and the Fat Smoker, which shows how individuals, managers and organisations can "overcome the temptations of the short term and actually do what they already know is good for them".

We all know we shouldn't smoke and that we should stay trim, but choosing not to have a quick cigarette or saying no to that cream bun can be a difficult path to follow. We all have those 'what the hell!' moments occasionally. The same goes with being a good manager, says Maister. We all have an idea of how we should behave as a manager, but because this requires a modicum of self-discipline, we don't always do it. Instead, as Maister puts it, it's "doing what's obvious, but not easy".

So how should a good manager behave? They do the following: they hire people who share their philosophy, values and approach, because it makes managing them a lot easier - and they hire for passion and attitude. To get the best out of their people, they recognise that they must have clear, enforced standards and an empathetic, supportive style. They never misrepresent, exaggerate, distort or lie just to get something done. And they're no soft touch: they have high standards that are clearly communicated and strictly enforced, while at the same time they give people the freedom to meet their standards without being micromanaged. They're also humble enough to learn from the people who work for them. Finally, they commit to helping their people grow professionally.

It makes giving up smoking and losing a couple of pounds seem like a walk in the park, doesn't it? Better instead to take the path of least resistance. Now, where's that cream bun?

- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today.

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