Why don't managers do better?
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Last week Dr. Jon Warner posted his list of the Top 50 Leadership blogs by Alexa rank.
Dr. Ellen Weber, at Brain Leaders and Learners posted a question for each of the bloggers on the list. She asked me:
"Why do so many managers miss their mark to perform at a better or higher level, and what would change that?"
It's a great question, Ellen, but one that doesn't have a quick-fix answer. Today's managers are the products of a system that sets them up to fail . It starts with the basic definition of the job.
Today's managers are expected to supervise the work . That's straight out of the Nineteenth Century Industrial Age, and it concentrates on the work not the people. In a Knowledge Economy, a better job description would be to enable the success of the team and team members.
We select most managers based on their success at another kind of work . Individual contributors who think they might want to move into management should be able to try on the role. Then they can see if it's right for them and others in the organization could judge whether the person would be a successful manager.
Moving to management is considered a promotion. That encourages people to become managers even if they won't be good at it and probably won't enjoy it. A promotion also makes it hard for a new manager to give up the job if he or she finds that it's not for them.
Today, managers are chosen almost exclusively by those above them on the org chart. The people who will be on the new manager's team don't have a say. Nor do other managers who will be the new manager's peers. Those are sources of insight and judgment we should use.
Once new managers are selected (perhaps "anointed" would be more accurate), they are expected to be effective immediately, with very little help . Most of them receive precious little training in the "enabling" parts of the job. What training there is often concentrates on form filling and prophylactic HR. And many things that are included in "enabling" training are simply wrong.
The transition from individual contributor to manager is more like a career change than a job change . Both the kind of work and the support systems are different and it usually takes a year or more before the new manager settles comfortably into the role. Very few companies provide support during the transition and fewer provide peer and mentoring support after.
Ellen, you asked why they don't perform better and what can be done to fix it. We've got a system problem, so we need a system solution, but there is a bright side to all of this.
Given the situation, I'd say it's amazing that we have as many good managers as we do, but they're out there. Every day in organizations everywhere there are good managers helping their team and team members succeed in spite of the system that surrounds them. Imagine what it would be like if we got the system right.
Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.