Do you find your managers aren’t succeeding? Are your employees complaining about poor management in surveys or exit interviews?
Have you gone away for a week or two and come back to find those you left in charge have been playing “boss” instead of servant leader?
It’s easy to point the finger at managers that are failing and say it’s their fault they’re poor managers. Maybe they’re just not cut out for a leadership role. However, as any good leader does, you have to start by looking at how you may be contributing to the problem.
A great leader takes the blame and shares the wins. Looking at the success and failure of the leaders and managers below you is no different. That’s why when you see poor management, you have to first consider how you may be part of the problem.
5 Ways You Could Be Helping Cause Poor Management on Your Team
Failure #1: Not giving them any training or coaching
Ever seen a child throw a ball for the first time? It’s pretty awkward. Their arm moves funny. They often contort their body as if half of it is tensed up. Then the ball barely goes forward or maybe in a totally different direction. Kind of like this epic fail of a first pitch at a Mets game:
And how does anyone go from awkward, novice to smooth, expert? They practice, and usually get quite a bit of help from a good coach teaching them how to do things the right way.
Management and leadership is a set of skills to learn and master all the same. If you’re not helping your people learn how to successfully lead and motivate in your company, should you really be surprised if they’re not great at it?
How to succeed: Don’t overwhelm people in training they lose an entire day or more of work for. They won’t retain most of it anyways.
Instead, give them the right tools (like Lighthouse) and frameworks, while helping them learn over time. Give them a mentor to turn to for questions and look at any missteps as teachable moments they can feel safe coming to you for help with.
Failure #2: Not Providing Any Support
When I’ve asked managers to describe their job to me, a common phrase I hear is, “lonely.” Too often, people get promoted to manager and then their boss stops talking to them regularly. This is a very bad move by the boss, as when people change jobs, they need the most help. As Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, wrote in High Output Management:
“How do you decide how often somebody needs [a one on one]? The answer is the job- or task-relevant maturity of each of your subordinates. In other words, how much experience does a given subordinate have with the specific task at hand?
…the most effective management style in a specific instance varies from very close to very loose supervision as a subordinate’s task maturity increases.”
Managers need 1 on 1s too. Just because someone is high up in your company, or even just rising in the ranks, doesn’t mean they don’t need them. How else will they have a pressure relief valve to talk about things they’re struggling with, give and receive feedback, talk about their goals and growth, and all the other things that go into 1 on 1s? The common answer is that they won’t talk about these things, and it will not only make them more likely to get frustrated, but it will hurt their team.
How to succeed: Set a good example and make sure top to bottom people have 1 on 1s. There’s a reason Ben Horowitz made it a fireable offense for not having them.
Your example of making the most of the meetings will trickle down and become a value in your company or team. Also, encourage managers to have peer 1 on 1s with other managers at their level; it gives both of them an outlet to share tactics, wins, struggles, and empathize with someone else in their situation.
Failure #3: Giving them too much IC work
Expecting your managers to ship significant amounts of individual contributor (IC) work is setting them up to fail as managers. Especially when someone is new to managing, it’s tempting to do the IC work they were already good at, instead of dealing with new challenges of being a manager.
Further, the more you give them IC responsibility, the more likely they are to avoid the hard, new, awkward management tasks. The more they avoid them, the worse it gets for their team as problems fester and resentment grows.
For many companies, having someone be exclusively an individual contributor isn’t possible for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, this opens up a can of worms, because task switching becomes quite difficult. Maker and manager hours are simply not the same. They use different parts of your brain, and quite often so called maker hours need to be just that: a sustained set of hours to get in the zone. This does not go well with the interrupt-driven, meeting heavy life of a manager.
How to succeed: A manager is a multiplier and so there is no amount of IC work they can slave over that compares to getting the most out of a team of people. Help your new managers manage their schedules so they help their team succeed first. Then, if they still have IC work, give them a limited, defined time like a “no meetings day” to do that work uninterrupted.
Failure #4: Not promoting the right people
Just because someone was a great individual contributor, does not mean they’ll be a good manager. In fact, many of your best IC’s will not want to be managers, but are often pushed into the role either by the organization, or because it’s the only way to advance and get raises.
When you have people in management for the wrong reasons, it will show in how they treat those they manage, and makes them less likely to want to learn the skills needed to be a great manager. They may even fall into habits (when paired with #3) where they pick off the best projects and leave less desirable tasks for their team.
There’s a lot of reasons people shouldn’t be managers, but they still often end up as managers. They and their teams suffer greatly, because of it.
How to succeed: Look for key skills that make a good leader like: humility, showing interest in others opinions in meetings, being good at asking questions, taking charge when appropriate, showing empathy for others, and having an eagerness to learn.
A manager’s mindset is also crucial to their success, so do not underrate evaluating people for all kinds of soft skills. They matter as much (or possibly more than) any amount of tenure and experience inside or out of your company.
If they don’t have the right skills and mindset despite being a great individual contributor, look to create an IC track for them to still advance at your company so they won’t be tempted to force it in a manager position.
Failure #5: Not grooming people in advance
Throwing someone in the deep end of the swimming pool as a manager can be an overwhelming, and even scarring, experience. If you’ve never managed before and one day you just walk in and that’s your title, you’re virtually guaranteed to struggle.
As a new manager, you have to unlearn many habits, often reconcile that colleagues you used to call peers now report to you, and develop key leadership skills like empathy and delegation. Some survive a trial by fire, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go.
Having bad managers is playing with fire, because it can lead to an entire team becoming disengaged or unhappy. You may then not just lose the manager, but their whole team to turnover.
How to succeed: Start thinking about who you may promote before you need them. The transition to manager will be much easier when it’s an obvious action, versus a surprise.
Identify the skills you want to see from a manager and start the conversation with someone to see if they’re interested. This avoids them taking the job “just for the money” or feeling pressured to say yes. Instead, it can be an exploration.
Then, when the time comes, you can make an intelligent choice on who is ready. They may have already managed an intern or two, or shadowed a manager, which is much better than throwing someone cold into the management deep end. By doing this, you’ll also make it safer for someone to try management, and go back to being an IC if they don’t like it.
No one strives to have poor management be the norm at their company. It takes hard work to ensure your company is filled with great leaders.
It’s why companies like General Electric invested in building a facility just for training leaders and Jack Welch spent much of his time there as CEO. It’s also why you need to be conscious of how you can directly impact the success of the managers and leaders beneath you.
If you want to fight against poor management, we can help you:
- Sign up for a free trial of Lighthouse: Built with best practices, and the latest workplace research built in, we help every manager be great.
- Get a Manager Score for you and your fellow managers: This benchmarking survey helps you understand what your team knows you need to improve on. It also includes tailored advice to help you improve.