What is a manager?

A good manager is someone who takes decisions that carry cost before the right decisions become obvious.

Anyone can take precautions if they have zero cost, of if they appear to have zero marginal cost. There is therefore a tendency to reduce the marginal cost of various precautions, processes, regular forums, documents, and the like by turning them into a running waste. That’s an attempt to make management easier, or more precisely to make bad management less distinguishable from good while sacrificing any efficiency.

Also, any vaguely competent functionary or committee can make tough decisions once the costs and benefits are unequivocally obvious. I once had a manager who, when faced with any important decision, asked his reports to gather all relevant information and present it in a table. He would only accept analysis that made the choice obvious, which is equivalent to saying he only made decisions of zero risk and zero marginal value.

The valuable work is to take decisions that are costly now to gain benefits or avoid risks that are as yet unseen in the future. The good manager is alone, or at least needs to have peers who are above the daily affairs of their team and are able to look into the longer horizon. Effective management has to be empowered, like business, so that risks and gains can be balanced and foresight applied.