Why don't managers do better?

Subscribe to the Three Star Leadership Blog

Working Supervisor's Support Kit
A collection of tools and information that will help you do a better job as a boss. 
Buy Performance Talk
Leadership Digital

Contact Wally  about coaching, consulting, or speaking to your group.

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.



What did you think of this article?

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.

  • 8/6/2012 8:48 PM John Hunter wrote:
    Very good points. Managers stuck is a system have great trouble changing it, often. They are not selected for the right reasons and then not given appropriate training, support and coaching.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/7/2012 9:59 AM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks for adding to the conversation, John. You've been saying that for a long time.

      Reply to this
  • 8/11/2012 3:10 PM Brandon wrote:
    I completely agree with all of these points. Typically a company sees a top employee at their craft and decides to promote them to be a manager. But, as you pointed out, these are 2 completely different skill sets. Thank you for your perspective.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/11/2012 3:43 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks for the kind words and adding to the conversation, Brandon.

      Reply to this
  • 8/13/2012 10:17 PM QA Training wrote:
    Of course they can do better. They just need to have a proper training for them to fulfill their tasks. Just like Brandon stated in his comments above, they need support, coaching and training.
    Reply to this
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.