In this episode, Jason ( Jason S Bradshaw) sits down with David (David Dodson), the accomplished author of “The Manager’s Handbook,” to delve into the profound insights shared in his Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling book.
The conversation unfolds around the book’s genesis, driven by David’s frustration as a former CEO with the lack of concise managerial resources available.
Listeners are treated to an exploration of the five essential characteristics that differentiate successful managers, offering actionable steps for building effective teams, maintaining focus, and improving decision-making.
The episode pivots to an in-depth discussion on the crucial theme of “willingness to seek and take advice.” David reveals how this trait is a common denominator among accomplished leaders, drawing examples from business icons like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. The conversation transitions seamlessly to the intricacies of setting and adhering to priorities, unraveling the significance of a structured process and the role of culture, strategy, and execution in organizational success.
The episode concludes with actionable takeaways, including a practical tip to reclaim precious time by optimizing meeting durations and a promise that specific chapters from the book can unlock two hours of daily productivity. Don’t miss this insightful journey into the heart of effective leadership and managerial excellence.
You can connect with David at these locations
You can get a copy of David’s book The Manager’s Handbook here https://amzn.to/3sXqb21
JASON: Hi David, it’s so great to have you with us on the show today.
DAVID: Yeah, I’m excited to get into it.
JASON: Well, first of all, it’d be remiss of me not to say congratulations on the new book, The Manager’s Handbook. Five simple steps to build a team, stay focused and make better decisions. Well, clearly lots of people are resonating with the book because not only have you sold a bestseller, it is a Wall Street Journal bestseller.
And USA Today bestseller, fantastic credentials and definitely speaks to the quality and substantive nature of this book, a book that people can really put into action really quickly, which is so unusual with, business books at times, usually you got to read, read two or three hundred pages before you get those nuggets.
So, again, Dave, congratulations, David, on the book. I was wondering, what led you to write the book?
DAVID: Well, it’s kind of, I was just about to say something when you asked that question, and interestingly enough, what I want to say is the same thing for both, which is, you know, before I became on the faculty at Stanford University, I was a CEO when I had run five companies, and I was always frustrated with the material that was out there to help me become a better manager because I would go buy a book that might be just sort of a victory lap for some other, you know, manager.
I don’t, it was fine, but I didn’t want to read about someone else’s victory. Or I’d have to go buy five books on a single subject to really understand it. And in fact, that’s exactly what happened when I was looking at hiring. And I bought every book I could see that was recommended on hiring.
It ended up being 11 books. I had to read 11 books to get about 20 pages of information. So I wanted to write a book that had absolute Monday morning take home value because I’ve sat in the seat of a CEO and I know that they don’t have time to read six books on hiring and four books on delegation and three books on running a good meeting.
And I, my goal was, Jason to write each chapter in as few words as possible. I wanted to make it the information as concise as I could. And then at the end of each chapter, as you know, from reading the book, I summarize the chapter, in sort of a half a page or a full page so that if you read a chapter and then you want to come back to it, you don’t have to reread the chapter.
Just go to that summary page. Everything’s right there for you.
JASON: And the other piece that I really valued in the book is you can read a part of the book in isolation to the rest of the book and have clear actions and takeaways and learning. So, certainly appreciate that. Now the book is broken into 55 parts.
You cover five key themes throughout the book. There’s part three is called willingness to seek and take advice. Do you think this is an area that managers perhaps lack in the most, that people get promoted and they think they know it all and therefore they’re less likely to take advice? Is that why you’re recommending that people need to be willing to seek it out and take advice?
DAVID: Not really, Jason. What ended up happening on this is that I didn’t set out to write a book. This is a subject that I care about. (INAUDIBLE) I’m an investor in a lot of companies and now I’m an instructor at Sanford. And I was intrigued by like, why are some people just so much better at getting stuff done than others?
What is going on here? And I sort of blew through the attribute theory that, well, they were looked a certain way or came from a certain place or had certain personality traits. And I just stumbled upon the fact that all of them with no exceptions shared these five characteristics. So I didn’t sort of kind of sit back in my chair and go, what would be some sage advice I could give a reader?
It was the opposite. I stumbled upon these five things. I said, Holy smokes, this is like big news because all of them can be learned. They’re all learned skills. And in fact, what got me most intrigued by this was of all people saying, (INAUDIBLE) because in 62, he was surrounded by JC Penney’s Kmart target and Sears, and he didn’t invent anything.
And he ended up annihilating them. And he annihilated them because he had these five skills and it was the same thing for him, Steve Jobs, go down the list. And one of them happened to be that they were really, really good at seeking and taking advice. And they do it for two reasons. One is it’s faster and more efficient.
There are not that many things out there that a manager faces that haven’t been met, that haven’t already been faced by someone else. So you can get to the answer quicker. The second is that you increase the odds of getting the right answer rather than try to figure out themselves. But of course, you know, it’s just a platitude to (INAUDIBLE) really, really good, masterful people. They know how to do it. They, the way they structure their board meetings, for example, or the way they structure a phone call to get an advisor, all of it is so intentional with these people and that’s why they ended up being able to build big companies.
JASON: Really interesting that you, some of the people that you’ve highlighted there and in that and they didn’t have all the answers and in many, in some instances, they didn’t even create anything new, but they were able to achieve what they did because they were willing to seek out that advice and to ask questions to structure their environment to support that as well, which I think is a great insight in the book.
You go into five questions that you encourage people to, to ask. I’m wondering, of those five questions, which is your favorite to ask? And why?
DAVID: Well, I really love, I structured five questions that you ask for your employees. For example, five questions you ask your vendors. Five, ask five questions you ask your competitors.
But my heart really was around the five questions you ask your employees because they know so much. But they, but back in the day, in like the 1980s, there was this fantastic book called Search of Excellence that came out and they kind of coined this term called management by walking around. And the idea would be that if you just kind of walked around and got out for behind your desk and hung out with the troops, you would learn all this stuff.
Well, guess what? It doesn’t work that way because they’re not going to tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey, boss, let me tell you this. Let me tell you this. People are intimidated. People don’t know what the right rules are, what the norms are and so forth. So the idea is that take these five simple questions and go on and ask your employees these questions (INAUDIBLE) that I’m not doing just to ask those five questions. And not only will you gain a huge amount of information by putting some structure around that management by walking around, but a little sort of dividend that you get on the side is that your employees really appreciate it because if you’re just kind of like hanging out asking how the kid did in a soccer game last week, that’s fine.
But they see right through it. But if you’re saying I know, you know, a lot of information about this business, you are valuable to me and valuable to the company. And I’ve got some questions I need answers to. They’re gonna walk away from the ring. It’s not about my kid’s soccer game. He actually really values me as an employee.
JASON: Yeah, and given the challenges that some organizations have faced over the last year or so about attracting and retaining talent, I think it’s very timely advice to get beyond the surface conversation as you say that how was your kids soccer game on the weekend to really taking the time to understand and ask them questions around what they know in terms of the relation of the business, I should say and really, you know, let them shine through in the job that they do.
So I, again, great advice there and interesting that you mentioned, management by wandering around, I think any university student, or manager from the nineties and even in the two thousands would have definitely hearing that term and perhaps even to today, there’s still this notion that just get out there and talk to the teams.
But it’s doing it. So with intentionality, which you’re talking about, which I think is that difference now moving on in the book, you talk about setting priorities and adhering to them. Definitely, I think it’s easy these days with so many distractions to chase that next shiny object and perhaps not following through.
So what are some key tips that you have for our listeners today around how they go about setting priorities? Because as you would know, given your history, sometimes you’re faced with 50 things that you need to do, but you really can’t make all 50 a priority. So how do you decide what to make a priority and what perhaps let to go through to the keeper?
Well, it begins with two critical mindsets. The first one is you have to understand whether you’re the CEO or you’re running a division or you’re a manager of a bookstore, you can come up with ideas and ideate faster than the organization can implement. (INAUDIBLE) Once they go, geez, why can’t my organization keep up with me? Well, it’s because what you’re doing took the drive home. You came up with the idea, but they have to hire people. They have to maybe lease office space. They have to work with vendors, etc. Implementation takes time. So the first thing is do not expect your organization to be able to implement as fast as you can come up with ideas.
Period. The second is that prioritization is not about eliminating the things you shouldn’t do. Prioritization is about not doing things that you know in your heart of hearts are great ideas because you’re working on something else. And by the way, the absolute king of this was Steve Jobs of Apple Computer.
There is no one in my research I came up with who was more fervent about setting and adhering to priorities. And people think about Apple’s like, look at all these things that they did, and they got the iPhone and the iPad and the laptop and so forth. But if you look at the history of Apple Computer, they basically did it one at a time.
And if he can take an organization as huge and vast as Apple and keep it focused on a few things. Think what you could do with your own organization. And Johnny Ive, who was his chief designer, who I was fortunate enough to meet and have some conversations with, he said that there was no one in his life that was so relentless about setting priorities.
And he would walk around, he would go to Johnny almost every week and say, what have you said no to, what have you said no to, what have you said no to? Because he understood that it was a, it was a relentless mindset, but that’s only the start of it. The second is if you want to seek and if you want to set in here to priorities, you have to first have a process for setting those priorities because if you’re going to say, I got 8 pretty darn good ideas, but I can only do two, you better pick, you know, you better pick the two or three best ideas out of the, out of the bunch.
So you have to have a process, which I describe in the book about how you go through a process that gets rid of all of the biases and all the things you kind of want to do. (INAUDIBLE)
And then there’s specific things that you do to make sure you adhere to it. For example, I talk about how compensation is a really, really important tool for setting and adhering to priorities. Just by way of example, delegation, how you delegate helps you set and adhere to priorities. And the best managers don’t sort of think about it like, well, it’s just a discipline.
It’s just about being a mature manager. It’s actually about having processes in place. You can’t do it on your own. There’s too many dumpster fires and shiny objects, Jason, that are out there that are just tapping you on the shoulder all the time saying, take a look at me. Take a look at me.
Don’t work on what’s important.
JASON: I definitely love that reference to dumpster fires that are taking away or sapping your time. Interesting that you do raise Apple because, you know, a modern Apple today, you go to their website, you can see a plethora of products, but as you highlight, they weren’t sitting at the campus going, let’s make seven great products today.
They were, let’s make this, whether it be the iPhone or the iPod or whatever. Let’s do this, do it really well, and then move on to the next product or give more focus to the next product or the next category, which I think is part of that discipline, that process that you talk about having the process in place that says this is the horse we’re betting on now that we’re going to focus on, not to the exclusion of all others, but the priority is this.
And then once we have this done, that will allow us to take those learnings and perhaps move on to something else.
DAVID: And I just jump in, Jason. I think most of the listeners …
JASON: Yeah, of course.
DAVID: If they sort of close their eyes, maybe literally and said, what would my organization look like if everybody was focused on one or two or three things? (INAUDIBLE) These are focused on it. How much faster could we go? And I’ll bet you most of your listeners would go. Whoa, that actually would be transformative. And in fact, it is transformative when I’ve seen organizations do that.
JASON: Well, Olympic teams as well. Of course, there’s a famous story of the British rowing team who basically just said, if it’s not going to make the boat go faster, we’re not focused on it.
So in everything we do, it’s that discipline and that focus to, that drives the difference.
DAVID: I, by the way, I love that story about the rowing team and I use it over and over again. Does it make the boat go faster?
JASON: And it doesn’t matter what industry you read. Everybody literally gets that right.
Once you say to them, does it make the boat go faster? So I’m wondering, you know, the book is doing great, bestseller lists and rave reviews. But now that you’ve had some time to reflect and that’s published, is there something that you wish that you had included in the book that you, didn’t, or perhaps something you included that you wish that you could have tweaked or perhaps added more to?
DAVID: Absolutely. So what happened was that I wrote the book, I was all done, and then I went back to write the introduction. And a writing mentor and sort of thought partner in mind, Professor Michael Porter, had been reading drafts of the book and so forth and guiding me a little bit. And I said, Mike, here’s, here’s the intro.
Will you mind reading it? Of course, we were in his kitchen actually. He goes, yeah, I’ll take a look at it. He read it. It’s not a long intro and he looks over and then he gets a scowl on his face. I’m like, Oh boy. And he said, David, you’re thinking about it all wrong. I’m like, I’m thinking Jason, that I got to rewrite the book at this point, but that’s not what his point was.
He said, you’re looking at this, like it’s a list of skills that people. (INAUDIBLE) I said, you’ve actually created a unifying theory of execution because you can’t run a good meeting if you haven’t hired good people and your meeting won’t be productive if you haven’t set in here to priorities and so forth.
So we said you got you have to convey to the reader that they don’t get to pick and choose here. If they really want to be great at what they do, they’re gonna have to do some of the hard stuff. Some of the yucky stuff to. That I got in the book. What I didn’t get in the book was what we both missed in that meeting in his kitchen, which was this.
That I was after the book was all done, I was in the car with a friend of mine, Jeremy Sklar, who runs a large real estate company. And he said to me, just in passing, he said, so what organizations harness all of these five skills? Cause I’d already talked about it from the standpoint of individuals and boom, the light bulb went off because I realized that Amazon and Apple and all at Walmart and all the companies we were talking about, it wasn’t just about one man. (INAUDIBLE) The whole organization. And a perfect example of this is Jeff Bezos, right? Jeff Bezos insists, well, he’s not there anymore, but of course it’s carried on since he left, insisted that meetings were run a certain way. If you’re going to convene my managers, you better make really good use of their time.
And so that was transformative for the organization. What I wish I’d put in the book, Jason, is I wish I had made that point that this is not kind of a self help book. This is a book that you read. And if you buy into it, you put a copy in the hands of all of your managers and say, this is how we’re going to run our organization now.
JASON: Yeah. I like that point. It’s not a solo act. It is a way of working, if you will, that needs to exist across the organization because, well, I think to take it a step further, if I’m setting priorities using Framework A, and then someone else is using Framework B to set priorities, the chances that they’re completely aligned are slim to be kind and and that’s going to lead to friction.
The opposite of what we want to achieve. We’ll have more of those dumpster fires to deal with that we that you so eloquently talked about …
DAVID: And I talk about, in one part of the book about just how these leaders are really good at managing their time. Well, what’s the point of Sam Walton being great at managing his time if everybody else isn’t and if anything, let’s Sam Walton waste time and let 1000 people who are managing manage, you know, manage their time well.
So that’s where all the leverages, whether you’re running a division or you’re running a whole company, the leverage is making your whole organization operate in this way.
JASON: Yeah. And certainly, I can only imagine what it was like having Michael Porter is as your guiding hand during the process and that insight that he shared, you know, over your kitchen table is absolutely gold.
So today, obviously you teach at minds around business and leadership. Outside of the book, I’m just wondering, what do you, what is the key message that you’re giving to your students, your postgraduate students at the business school today around running a business?
DAVID: There was a very famous quote by Peter Drucker, who’s kind of thought of as sort of the founder or the father of strategy consulting.
And he said, or consulting, and he said, culture eats strategy for breakfast. And the implication was if you don’t have the good people and are working together, it doesn’t matter what kind of strategy you have. And by the way, Michael Porter, who’s kind of the father of strategy, wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that.
But what he would say was Drucker was wrong by saying (INAUDIBLE) it’s necessary, culture is necessary, but not sufficient. You need culture and strategy. And what I’ve tried to develop is nope, you’re still not there yet. You need culture, strategy, and the ability to get things done. And there’s a strategy that can’t be implemented is of little use whatsoever.
And in fact, in the back of the book, Michael’s got a quote there that effectively that says that. And Bill Gates famously said vision without execution is like daydreaming. And so, and then if you think about the culture side of it, Drucker’s piece of it. Well, you can’t have a culture if you’re not good at hiring and you’re not good at giving feedback and you’re not getting in performance reviews and you’re not gracious when you have to let people go.
So you can’t create a culture if you don’t have good execution. So excuse me. So the three things go together. If you have one without the other two, You’re not … (INAUDIBLE) nice that we all look back on and go. How did they do that? How are they so much better than everybody else? Well, it’s because they brought these three things together and that’s what I try to teach in class.
JASON: Yeah, culture, strategy and implementation or execution. Absolutely agree with you there and time and time again, I think you find in organizations that examples of where one of those elements is not quite right, or just frankly missing, and that’s becomes the Achilles heel to the organization.
DAVID: Yeah, Rob, a friend of mine who was the co CEO of Whole Foods, he said, Business success is 1 percent insight and 99 percent implementation.
JASON: Yeah, well, definitely without implementation everything is just a thought bubble or a dream and I would suggest that perhaps that’s the reason why there are some companies, especially small businesses, well, why there is such a huge number of them that fail within their first couple of years because of the great idea that never happens.
The implementation never happens with a great idea or it’s not completed throughout. It’s, we get started and then we start getting distracted. We don’t set the right priorities. So, you know, I think if you, if a listener is watching or listening today, even if they’re a solopreneur. The message is still there.
You can’t just have the great idea. You have to have the implementation of that great idea with all the right support mechanisms around you to make sure that it sustains and achieves what you’re wanting to achieve.
DAVID: That’s right.
JASON: We’ve talked a lot. Sorry, go ahead, David.
DAVID: (INAUDIBLE) Bookstore. And so she’s got a handful of employees.
There’s no big strategy decisions that she’s making every day. But that day to day implementation is the difference between selling more books today than she did the same day last year. Are you hiring good people, etc, etc. And so this kind of idea that implementation is only for the, you know, or is only for like the top executives or big companies or CEOs, that’s ridiculous.
Every manager needs to be good at running a meeting. Every manager needs to be good at hiring. Every manager needs to be good at setting and adhering priorities. Every manager needs to manage their day correctly and be a good custodian of their time. So these are basic building blocks, not for the larger than life CEO.
These are basic building blocks for all of us who have to manage something, whether it’s a bookstore or apple computer.
JASON: Yeah, I agree completely. Now you mentioned quite a number of times during the show hiring good employees. Now, I absolutely agree with you that that’s important, but I’m wondering if you have a tip for the audience around how to hire, how to identify that someone’s going to be a good employee.
DAVID: There are very specific steps that people go through that are really good at hiring. And it begins with letting loose this notion that I hire with gut feel. And I’ve heard so many times people say, well, you know, I kind of hire with gut feel. Baloney. Hiring with gut feel is code word for I’m taking the lazy way out and we actually have empirical proof around it.
And my favorite story is a story that Malcolm Gladwell tells in his book Talking with Strangers, and he describes how, Neville Chamberlain, who was the prime minister of Britain at the time, flew to Germany to meet with the German chancellor and he meets with Adolf Hitler. This is early on in world, this is before world war two.
And he comes back and announces not just to Britain, but more importantly to the whole world that Hitler can be trusted. He’s a person we can work with. He doesn’t have these ambitions that everybody’s worried about. And he cites, for example, as an example, the way Adolf Hitler shook his hand. With a double handed handshake, Malcolm Gladwell was forming his opinion based on gut feel of Hitler.
Well, it turns out that the person who got the world leader that got Hitler right from the beginning was, of course, Winston Churchill. Interestingly, Winston Churchill never met Adolf Hitler. His evaluation of Adolf Hitler was based on data. And when you’re hiring, you convert your process from gut feel and likability and, do I do I get along with this person till I’m going to look at data and I’m going to examine that data against the outcomes that I want.
So if I’m hiring, let’s say a director of sales, I want someone who can increase sales by 15 percent next year. I want someone who can hire three good salespeople next year. And then you start saying, well, what would the data be that I would need to see to demonstrate whether he could hire three new salespeople?
Well, I want to look at whether he’s hired other salespeople before. How many of those people worked out? What happened with their sales? And all of a sudden now you’re looking at the data and you’re very, very likely to make a good hiring decision. I had my own proof on this actually, Jason, because we, I was running a organization that had country managers in seven countries.
JASON: We were one for seven. We were not doing well with having people work out. We implemented the things that are written in the book. We went seven for seven. It just works. And by the way, most of the people (INAUDIBLE) they hire on gut feel, which means that if you employ these principles that the very best people do. You are absolutely going to excel against your competitors, and that’s why in the book it says, you know, the last part of the subtitle is and crush your competition.
Makes perfect sense. And I couldn’t let the show go by without asking that.
So thanks for the insights. They are employ, how to employ great people. It is time that we wrap up. You’ve been very generous with your time. Of course, in the show notes, we will have links to ways that people can follow you and importantly get a copy of your great book. But before I do let you go, David, I’m just wondering if you could share with us just one last piece of wisdom and insight.
And the question is this. What’s something that a listener or a watcher of the show today can do immediately to start improving, to being a better leader, to getting better at implementation, strategy, and culture. What’s your one takeaway for us?
DAVID: The easiest thing to do is take all of your 30 minute meetings and turn them to 20 minute meetings.
And all of your hour long meetings in terms of 40 minute meetings. And when you look back on your calendar, that is going to save 70 minutes every single day. And that’s very, very valuable time. And then the second thing, and I know this is a little bit outside the realm of your question, but the second thing is, if you get the book, read chapters 8, 9, and 10.
And I promise any listener that if you read chapters 10, you will effortlessly find two hours of extra productivity every day.
JASON: Well, if there hasn’t been a better reason to buy a book than that one, I’m not sure what it is, read chapters eight, nine, and ten, and you will gain two hours of productivity or more back in, back into your life.
That’s a fantastic David. Thank you again for being on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you today
DAVID: I really enjoyed the conversation, Jason.