So You Think You Can Manage?

How many times have you come across a "manager" and thought, ""how in the world did he/she get this position? Well my friends, you are not alone in those thoughts. As it turns out, incompetent managers are everywhere and it is generally estimated by a number of studies that about 50% of all managers are considered ill-suited for leadership or management positions. So this begs the question, what is considered a bad manager?

Bad managers are defined as those that generally don't have the capacity to lead/rally a team and move them to a common goal for a variety of reasons such as:

  • They believe others should just "do what they are told"
  • They don't have respect for employees
  • They don't have expectations for themselves or others
  • They don't hold themselves or others accountable
  • They display "favoritisma" or ignore certain members of a team
  • Or maybe they are undermined by senior managers/leaders who "just can't let go of that supervisor position"

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it gives a general overview of why certain managers aren't successful in these positions.

Why is bad management so pervasive?

For a variety of reasons, individuals are hired or promoted into management positions. Some reasons are personal (e.g., promoting because the person has charisma so you think they will make a good manager), and some reasons are due to organizational deficiencies (e.g., hiring a person into a manager position because the organization didn't have a good screening process). There is also a pervasive assumption in many companies that if an employee has worked there long enough, then they "should" be promoted to manager (e.g., the tenured track promotion).

What's worse is that once these individuals are promoted, they aren't set up to succeed. There is no leadership development, no tools, no training/education, no coaching and generally, no support. But they are expected to be successful. Huh... Personally, I'm less concerned with the processes that got managers into these positions (although no less important), but I'm more concerned at just how little companies want to invest in the success of these managers.

What to do about this...

I believe first and foremost, we need to take a quick personal inventory of ourselves as managers or aspiring managers. While we all think we can manager, the truth is we are ill-equipped to manage or deal with the number of issues that come with having direct-reports; especially if this is our first time as a manager. Quint Studer in "Hardwiring Excellence" said that there are generally 3 phases we all go through when we take a new position:

  1. Unconsciously incompetent - you are new at a role and "think" you can do the job and you have the skills, not realizing you don't have a clue as to what you are doing. In other words, you "don't know what you don't know."
  2. Consciously incompetent - when you start to understand that you "don't know what you don't know." This is where you realize that maybe you aren't cut out for the job [as a manager] or you begin to take that critical step to seek out the right tools, resources, and support that will move you from being an incompetent manager into a competent manager.
  3. Consciously competent - This is where you've learned what you don't know and have obtained the skillsets, tools, and resources needed to be a confident and successful manager/leader.

Understanding which phase we are in can greatly enable us to become better managers and leaders by allowing us to maneuver through the needs that the position requires. For example, when I take on a new position, I start at phase 2 (I'm long past "thinking" I know everything). By coming in with a phase 2 attitude, I'm allowed to ask questions, listen to what's going on, and stay "under the radar" until I have a reasonable idea of what is needed of me, my role within the team, and how to apply what I do know to the benefit of others and the organization. It also gives me time to create relationships (most important) and find the tools, resources, and support I'll need to be successful as a leader.

Additionally, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the "incompetent manager" syndrome:

  • LET GO. Micromanaging is the worst thing a manager can do and kills employee motivation.
  • Identify your resources; not just for yourself, but for others such as direct-reports.
  • Focus on creating relationships. Get to know them, their skills, contribution to the team, etc.
  • Take your time (if you can) to find the facts before making decisions.
  • Identify the best way to communicate with others and be flexible.
  • Find the tools that you might need as a manager that will support your needs, and
  • Check out management/leadership development opportunities. If your company doesn't offer them, then look at trade groups.

Most companies are still very short sighted and don't offer long-term manager or leadership development support; hence our incompetent manager problem. Yet that shouldn't prevent us from looking at what we have and taking necessary steps to change. In Toyota's Leadership Model (The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, J. Liker & G. Convis), we can see a model on how a company invests in the development of their employees and managers. This investment and long-term focus has paid off handsomely for Toyota over the years and provides a valuable lesson to corporate America in the sense that if we take the time to develop our managers, provide the opportunities and support for growth, and cultivate good leaders and leadership skills, we can then begin to eradicate the incompetent manager syndrome.

A final thought

Remember that being a manager isn't about "telling others what to do," rather it's about getting the best out of others, motivating them, inspiring them, and cultivating high-performing teams that get results. You can't do it by yourself, you will need help from these teams and keep in mind, the better they do, the better you become. And just so you know, being a great manager of people will provide some of your greatest challenges. It's all about the right skills required to manage and lead others that will set you apart as a competent manager and a leader for the future.

©  Darrielle Ehrheart | January 14, 2016

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