Managers are dime aplenty but good visionary leaders are rare in this world. Today, we celebrate another good manager appearing in our midst and welcome Chris OKeefe to join MiddleMe for an up-close and personal interview.

Hey, Chris! I’m so glad you can join us and give me this opportunity to talk heart-to-heart from a manager to a manager. So share with us, who is Chris OKeefe? And what industry are you involved in?

Thank you, Kally. It is a pleasure to be a guest on MiddleMe.

I’ve been managing a group or program of some sort for over 20 years. For almost thirteen years, I’ve been in my current position managing a research group in a university medical school and hospital. We have about six full-time staff and work with a number of faculties (doctors and psychologists) on several studies. For some of the studies, we coordinate the activities of and provide support to sites at other universities and hospitals across the U.S.

What is it like working in a University? Especially as a manager.

The upside of working at a university is the creativity. I have the privilege of working with some our field’s thought leaders. Also, being part of a university, our mission is teaching. Medical students, residents, and new physicians bring exciting new energy and enthusiasm to our work. The challenge of working in a university setting is that they are huge organizations. It can be tricky at times to navigate the various systems to help our team to accomplish our goals. I’m fortunate that our department has supportive people in more senior positions to help with this.

You must be super busy so how do you manage your time effectively? How do you make sure you go home on time?

Well, that is a constantly moving target. A good calendar (on my iPhone) and a daily “to do” list (kept in a notebook) are the basics. If we are working on the start-up of a big project, I may have a project task list that I manage in Excel.

For a long time, I didn’t go home on time. I had to learn to give up some control and to trust our team members to do the right thing. We’d hired good people and provided them with them needed training. I came to realize that my being around and “jumping in” to help out was more of a hindrance. It did not allow them to develop into an autonomous group.   Our current team functions more autonomously than any group with whom I’ve worked previously. They do a terrific job. I keep things going administratively and they manage the study sites and patients.

Since you mentioned that you work closely with a number of faculty members, how do you resolve situations where there is a clash of ideas?

Hmmm, it depends on the nature of the difference. If the difference is in the realm of science, then I defer to the scientists. They need to work that out.

Other times, the differences revolve around areas that I do manage, such as regulatory issues or project implementation. Regulatory issues are easier to address because you can show someone a regulation and possibly get a consult about how it applies to our situation. In terms of implementation differences, much of what I do is to get people to talk to one another. Sometimes, people want the manager to be the middle-man negotiating their differences. I stopped doing that long ago. Now I work to get people to talk to each other. The usual outcome is that they come up with a solution that suits their needs better than I would have through shuttle-diplomacy.

What makes a good manager? Is there a difference between a leader and a boss? What is the difference in your opinion?

That’s a challenging question. I’m not sure you can separate the two. Really, they are on a continuum. A pure “boss” is thinking about the short-game, focused on the “how and when” of day-to-day systems. Leaders are more visionary. They innovate the systems and attract the talent. Most managers are somewhere in-between. The person for whom I work is the true visionary of our group. His vision is years out in terms of the research studies and types of faculty who can enhance our group. My role as a manager is to lead our team in figuring out the ways to implement those studies and generally involves only looking ahead a few years at a time.

You need people at both levels. Visionary leaders come up with great ideas that are challenging to execute. The managers and teams have to work with him or her to figure out how to implement these ideas. If a leader got mired in the details, the project would never happen.


We’ll take a quick little break for now and will return to Part two of the interview ASAP!

7 replies on “Sharing Muffins with A Manager

  1. A very beautiful interview. I agree with Chris on many counts, and you as well. Managers and bosses are indeed dime a dozen. It’s the leaders, who are scarce. People Management is an art, which requires someone, who’s humble and strong, like a supple strip of high quality steel, of which swords are made of. Glad to know that Chris belongs to that class and is continuing the tradition.

    Loved the interview!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s