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Sitting in a glass box

Management is: Get it done, follow-up, discipline, planning, analysis, facts, facts, facts. It’s [getting] the right people in the room, kill the bureaucracy, all of these various things... ...Humility, openness, fairness and being authentic are most important – it's not about being the smartest person in the room or the hardest working person in the room. - Jamie Dimon, 2020

Sitting inside a glass box has certain kicks. I can do calls in private, talk as loud as I want and frivolously use the bigger table space and cabinets for stashing paperwork. But it takes some getting used to. Why? For most parts of my banking life, I've worked out of communal spaces in which senior directors sit out in the open and fraternise with the rest of everyone across the ranks. There weren't many physical boundaries. Everyone works out of a common row of desks or cluster of cubicles. When a director needs some stuff to be done, he/she just gets up, walks a few steps over to the analyst's table to talk.

In one of my previous transactions involving an airline company, the Chief Operating Officer actually sits openly in the geographical centre of the entire office, no walls, no barriers, just a table with a desktop computer and stacks of documents. When I asked them why they had done it this way, they said it was to ensure that the key person is easily accessible by everyone in the office - much like the control tower of an airport.

So it takes a bit of getting used to when I get to sit in a glass box.

An example of work cubicles during my banking days

While I don’t see this as a privilege, there is indeed a price for people who sit in a glass box. There are subtle ‘expectations’. Expectations on capability, responsibilitiy, and many more. People on the outside usually see those sitting inside glass boxes as 'senior management' regardless of whether they think so.

So it is along this train of thought that got me thinking: What makes management a good management?

Over the last couple of years, I've been observing, listening, reflecting and even experimenting through interactions with different people, in the process constantly asking myself - what makes an outstanding leader, how do people learn management skills and if business schools really impart any tangible (and usable) skills on this. After all, there are many academic modules covering organisational behaviour, strategy, international business, as well as many ideologies drawing references to notable thought leaders and practitioners: Peter Drucker, Michael Porter, Jack Welch, Bob Iger and so on...

It is refreshing to read so much literature and draw a wide variety of insights from these accumulated experiences on what defines good leadership and management. But application in reality is much more difficult.

Since I started working, I have also had numerous first-hand experiences in 'receiving' and 'practising' management - both good and bad ones. Most of my previous stints involve elements of conflicting work styles and company cultures. I have seen and experienced how managers and colleagues try to adapt and assimilate these. Obviously, not all were successful. At times, I wonder if there are perfect solutions, and who decides whether the outcomes had been effective.

Get it done

Perhaps the most important principle is to deliver the goods. Results are basically everything: Topline and cashflow. Quantifiable metrics are not only tangible, they are surgical, honest and most of the time beyond contestation.