How to Master Management: Lessons From Donald Miller at BMSU

A manager’s role is not only to guide and direct others but to design a strategy that helps each individual succeed so that the whole team can win. A great manager knows how to create systems and processes that lead to victory, which gains the trust and respect of team members.


In this overview on management according to Donald Miller, CEO of Business Made Simple, you will learn how to master management by establishing priorities, measuring performance, and act as a coach to your team members as you help them be the best they can be.

Define Top Priorities and Communicate Clear Expectations

Every professional wants to know what’s expected of them. If they are only offered vague objectives and are unsure of their role in reaching the team’s goals, they won’t be able to work effectively, and they may also experience feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. A good manager lets their team members know exactly what they should be doing with their particular set of skills and talents.

In order to communicate this to them, both you and the team have to know what the priorities are. Donald suggests asking yourself the question “what do we produce?” Your production should embody the following three characteristics: 

  • Measurable: You should be able to count the number of units you produce.
  • Profitable: The things you produce should be associated with the bottom line of the organization.
  • Scalable: If you want your business or division to grow, can more people be hired to create more of the thing you’re producing?

As Donald says, “defining what each division produces leads to clarity of purpose and expectations.” Using the above characteristics to outline your top priorities not only makes it easier for you as a manager to see what processes and systems need to be altered, but helps everyone on the team understand the main objective and their role in achieving it.

KPIs and Activity to Output Ratio

Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are factors that are measured to ensure healthy production. Within the subject of KPIs resides both “lag measures” and “lead measures”. A lag measure is something that is too late to change—it’s a number used for reporting, such as the number of sales made in the past month. A lead measure, as Donald explains, is “an activity you can control to affect the lag measure,” such as the number of sales calls your team makes. 

Lead measures can help increase your chances of success in achieving a goal. KPIs are usually looked at through the lens of lead measures, as it helps “ensure that activity to output ratio increases,” as Donald says. He shares four steps that will help you use KPIs to your advantage:

  1. Identify what you produce (measurable, profitable, scalable).
  2. Create clear objectives to produce more of that product.
  3. Pinpoint the lead measures that factor into product creation.
  4. Focus on those lead measures.

Streamlining Processes

A great manager can increase efficiency and improve the activity to output ratio by being a creative problem solver. As Donald remarks, “we want to constantly ask ourselves how we can get more output for the work we are doing.” How can you improve on the processes that are currently in place and make changes that get rid of bottlenecks and limiting factors? In the end, the goal is to produce more without losing quality or unnecessarily increasing the amount of work.

Provide Praise and Constructive Criticism

Thus far, there has been a lot of talk about profitability and measuring and changing processes and systems, but a manager doesn’t just oversee cogs in a machine, they work with human beings. People respond to praise for their accomplishments, and as Donald says, “specific praise helps people know what to do more of.” 

Of course, there also needs to be constructive criticism—criticism that is meant to help the team member improve, succeed, and become an even better version of themselves. This kind of criticism is best served by a manager that truly wants the best for their team and is there to help them win.

Donald shares some rules to keep in mind when giving feedback: Give it soon after the relevant incident, remove roadblocks by exploring what happened, rehearse a different approach, and let them know you are on their side. This feedback should be a routine that helps team members constantly improve and learn from their failures as opposed to being brought down by them.

Become a Coach, Not a Cheerleader

It’s great to have someone in our corner giving us words of encouragement, but when it comes to growth, development, and improvement, a coach is needed, not a cheerleader. A coach isn’t just encouraging but is a teacher that helps team members learn the frameworks they need to succeed in the professional world. This involves providing specific instructions and objectives, setting expectations, and tracking progress.


Remember, it’s not a manager’s job to be liked. A great manager should strive to be trusted and respected as a result of their knowledge about how business works and their willingness to provide feedback and constructive criticism for the good of the individual and the team as a whole.