4 Management Lessons from Ben Franklin

Jul 8, 2016
7 Min Read
Collaborative App Dev

4 Management Lessons from Ben Franklin

Scientist-philosopher Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of America, was an entrepreneur, diplomat, scientist, and writer who rose from humble roots. His writings include a book called Poor Richard’s Almanack, which offered advice in the form of aphorisms. And it seems that many of these can be applied to management.

Many of these aphorisms might seem self explanatory, but they bear examination as the lessons they teach that are as true now as when they were when he wrote them...in the mid-to-late 1700s.

We have four points from the Almanack for you, because if you have to learn, learn from Ben Franklin, that is, the best. 

Diligence is the mother of good luck

Dindy Robinson, HR director for a higher education institution says, “Sometimes when looking at people in the upper echelons of an organization, it seems as though they’ve had all the luck.” But there’s more to promotions and accolades than random chance. There’s diligence.

Co-workers may say someone with a plum assignment got lucky, but they ignore the fact that this particular employee was selected for promotion—or earned a bonus or perhaps secured top clients—because she consistently delivers high-quality work. The newly promoted employee made her own luck with hard work, and lots of it.

Or to use another expression, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

Wise men learn by others’ harms, fools by their own

A manager has to learn from the past to see what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve results. But, Robinson says, information doesn’t just come from fact-gathering: It comes from observation.

“Observe how others handle situations and analyze the results. Experience can be a great teacher, but it is even better to learn from someone else’s experiences than your own,” says Robinson.

This surveillance isn’t just limited to facts. You also need to be aware of people:

Project manger Kymberli Morris, vice president of sourcing and vendor management for Credit Suisse, says, “Some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned have come from observing other people. Years ago, I worked for a manager who was an absolute beast. I decided then exactly what kind of manager I would become – and that was one that was their complete antithesis. And it worked. My style is very different. As a result, my teams are much happier, more productive, and infinitely more loyal.” 

Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship

Controlling expenses on a project starts even before day one. Work hard to keep it under budget, and plan for hidden costs.

Rivette Scarlatti, project development manager at Exceptional Business Systems, points out, “I have seen so many decisions that are penny wise and pound foolish. Outsourcing, for example – quite a hot-button topic – when done well can lead to increased efficiencies and great cost savings. But when leaders focus only on the bottom line and compare single resource cost to single resource cost, invariably it ends up costing much more than anticipated, because the key factor of quality was overlooked.” In fact, when you consider the need to manage offshore workers onshore, your costs may have actually increased.

But keep in mind that an overly strict budget has its ramifications. For example, an organization might ask the staff to work overtime—a cheaper alternative to hiring additional employees. What the organization does not consider, however, is that both job-related stress, as well as the potential for mistakes, increases when the staff is overworked. Paying overtime may seem like a little expense, but it’s the kind of solution that can snowball into a very costly situation. 

Speak little, do much

Managers should consider letting their stakeholders do the lion’s share of talking at meetings. Morris says, “Those who hold their tongues until they have something meaningful to add to the discussion often command greater attention and respect, as their words tend to carry more value.”

And be careful about making commitments, says Robinson. “It can be very tempting to promise the moon to one’s boss, but that can quickly backfire if you are not able to deliver.”

Boasting or giving out too many details of a plan—which could always go awry—can make a manger look foolish. Make sure to have a backup plan, a Plan B. And while you’re at it, it couldn’t hurt to have a Plan C.

Ben Franklin would be proud.

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