Developing Great Managers

Sep 16, 2002

Despite your efforts to locate?? either internally or externally?? the best possible management candidates, at the hiring stage your work has only just begun. The interview process that follows is, at best, an effort to locate potential and promise. But rarely does the process conclude with absolute certainty that the best candidate has been located and hired. And even if that were the case, unless it is your goal to create a stagnant management profile, ongoing training is a critical component to developing the management team that will provide your organization with effective and productive employees who contribute to the strategic corporate goal of profitability. Because that is, after all, the ultimate bottom line. But first, you must figure out what the management style is of your organization and your individual managers, and you must determine where that training must begin. One place to start is to look at management styles gone wrong. Over the years I have catalogued a list of the most common management problems I have encountered. You won’t find this list in your average MBA textbook, but it covers most of the primary flaws in managers:

  • The Screamer. This kind of manager uses intimidation to motivate their direct reports. They use terms like “failure” and “termination” as their tools to make their people work. It is possible that these managers will produce results, but only in the short term. Over the long haul they burn out good people and cause excessive turnover through internal lateral transfers and voluntary terminations. You will also probably notice that this is the team with excessive “missed work” issues and probably a reputation for being “chronic complainers.” But when you are constantly set upon by an unreasonable and uncaring boss, complaining is about all you have left. Screamers also traditionally hire people who they feel they can intimidate. Consequently, they hire weak teams.
  • The Lighting Bolt. This manager is constantly on the move. You see them running from one place to another. Their primary office automation tool is a pair of Nikes. But aside from burning up calories, this person rarely stays in one place long enough to actually get anything done. They confuse chaos with accomplishment and disorder with responsiveness. This person usually burns out a team due to the constant disorder and disruption they face in their daily work lives. The team may like the manager, they may even feel sorry for them, but the truth is they live in a constant state of confusion and disorder. This person usually loses people due to their desire to have order in their professional lives and an opportunity to grow and learn new skills. That’s impossible in a world of chaos and disorder.
  • The “Go-To Dependent” Manager. This manager constantly seeks out the same one or two people to “go to” to do their critical or important work. The initial rationalization may be justified based on the overall level of training, motivation, and work quality of their team. These one or two people may be the only ones capable of being entrusted with creative, critical, or independent assignments. But in the long term, this manager is failing in his or her most important mission: upgrading the skills and capabilities of the team through training and encouragement. This environment causes the team to breakdown based on those who feel “left out” vs. the “in crowd.” Compounding this is the very real potential of burning out the “go to” people with unrealistic burdens while also losing the undervalued or underutilized team members to internal transfers or external resignations. This manager suffers from short sightedness, fear of risking failure through the training of the whole team, and doubts about their own ability to control a large group.
  • “Poor, poor pitiful me…” This manager is convinced that they bear the weight of the world on their own shoulders that and each and every assignment is yet another punishment being administered to them by a cruel and unfair world. They develop an “us” versus “them” attitude in the team and fail to develop a sense of team contribution and holistic environment. The work becomes a burden, and success is diminished by the sense that the request was unreasonable because that was the message delivered by the “management messenger.” This person tends to exhale loudly when presented with tasks and seldom presents a positive or motivational spin to anything. Their favorite sentence usually begins, “Well, they are doing it to us again…” This manager usually succeeds in convincing the team they are being “set upon” and creates the negative moral they work so hard to foster.
  • The Perpetual Process Improver. This manager builds “space shuttles” where a pair of “roller skates” would have sufficed. They have removed themselves from daily task accomplishment in the never-ending quest for change. It is true that a manager should always be looking for a “better mousetrap.” But every now and then they also need to “catch a mouse.” Their team needs some level of consistency in their lives to do the job, and constant change with the implementation of new tools and procedures that are never fully tested or utilized before they too are changed creates an atmosphere of ongoing frustration and instability.
  • Mr. or Mrs. Too Busy For The Little Stuff. This manager has allowed their world of meetings, report writing, and multiple trips “upstairs” to overwhelm their lives. They tend to “push down” the work that should be the most critical to them: building and supporting their team. The message they are sending is they are “too busy” to be involved in the “little stuff,” and consequently the team begins to believe that what they do is “little stuff.” People don’t want to invest their important career development time mastering “the little stuff.”
  • Everybody’s Friend. This manager wants everybody to like him or her. They lack the confidence and self-esteem to risk being disliked for doing their job. They do not push, train, or discipline, since that would also require being other than a “buddy.” They build a team of people who do not ever really understand if they are performing at a level that ensures their professional growth?? but they have had a lot of really great “gab sessions” about nothing in particular. The people who want to grow move on, the people who want to have fun stay.
  • Shallow and Superficial. This manager tends to lock on one piece of information about his or her team members and works it to death. I once worked in an office where the boss knew that one of the team members fished. So every time the boss walked by, as part of his “warm and caring” act he would ask, “How is the fishing, Jim?” He asked this the day after Jim and his wife had a new baby, the same week Jim’s mother had passed on, and the first week Jim was back from sick leave for walking pneumonia. Yeah, Jim was real impressed with the boss’s concern about how much he liked fishing. Feigning concern is like pretending to give to charity. Nobody really believes you, and you are really not doing any good. Often these are people totally devoid of empathy but think that it is something they can “fake.” These managers have a “real effect” opposite than the one they are trying to fake.
  • Cave Dweller. This manager arrives and leaves each day like a thief sneaking into or out of work. They are not comfortable in their “human” role and hope that by being removed or invisible, they will make it through another day without the burden of personal interaction. They tend to lean on their deputy or assistant to intercept pesky people trying to see them. The team tends to wallow and drift without the presence of positive and direct contact with the person who is determining the development of their careers. This manager does not want to manage?? but they will take the money for it.
  • “Catch me if you can…” This manager has actually retired; it’s just that they are still on full pay and go to work everyday. Although they behave in the manner similar of many of the above distant and ineffective managers, the difference is intent. They intend to do as little work as humanly possible. They distribute, delegate, assign, and task the team with all manner of projects and issues. But they provide no training, guidance, or direction. If they provide any level of motivation, it is the negative motivation of revealing it is possible to pull a paycheck and do nothing to earn it.

There are other sub-categories of these, but to me the above contains most of the basic flawed management profiles that I have come across in my professional life. To train these tendencies out of your management staff you must consider one delicate and perplexing problem: Where do you start? After all, somebody at the next highest level hired these managers and is either unaware or uninvolved. One of my early mentors in business taught me that bad supervisors are hired and trained by bad managers. Bad managers are hired and trained by bad directors, and bad directors are hired and trained by bad vice presidents, who were hired and directed by the CEO. In short, wherever you perceive poor management issues, go up one more level to discover the source of the problem. To develop a real management-training program that correctly reflects your corporate self-image, you must first establish what that imagine is and receive corporate commitment to invest the time, energy, tools, and senior-level directives to put the program in place. Otherwise, you are just spending money and time for no real purpose. Without commitment to a real corporate goal you have less of a program and more of a hit-or-miss pretence of caring. The best management training is, in fact, good management. Nothing teaches?? to the positive or to the negative?? better than the example your senior management team projects. Good managers know that a significant skill set is performance art. A good manager knows that they are always being watched and emulated. If their projected message is, “I do not care,” then that will be the lesson they teach to their direct reports. Good managers follow these practices, among others:

  • The manager sets the tone. Whatever they project will be reflected back by their team.
  • Like an actor on stage, their every move is watched and they are always aware that the people who work for them never forget a negative gesture or a misspoken word.
  • They keep their personal issues in their briefcase. The people who come to them are looking for a balanced and fair response, no matter how bad the traffic was that morning or how disturbed the meeting they just left made them feel.
  • Their primary goal is making their team productive. Every action and plan should contribute to that goal; otherwise it is a secondary priority.
  • The only mission they face more critical than training their staff is promoting their staff. When people see growth as part of their relationship with their manager, they are eager to participate. When they see their manager as separate from that process, they separate themselves from that manager.
  • They see management not as a privileged position, but as an obligation to be taken seriously.

As far as external professional management training is concerned, that too is a critical component. But don’t assume that all training is of equal benefit or impact. Before you start calling various training organizations, ask your managers and your employees where they feel management is lacking. Is it professional skills, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, or a combination of all the above and others? Select a company that has worked with your competitors and related industries or that specializes in the key issues you have uncovered. Are you a manufacturing organization with a significant proportion of your workforce “blue-collar” supervisors promoted into management? Are a significant percentage of your management workforce college educated but currently managing a non-college educated workforce? Picking a training program based solely on “the program” and not the specific lacking of your company management team only serves to pour water on a grease fire. The wrong solution always makes the problem worse. Do not assume that the “great program” you went to at your last company will be just as great for your current organization. Before you invest in outside training, work on the inside to create an atmosphere of acceptance and commitment to the ultimate goal, solid management practices and policies. I have attended many excellent programs in my career, only to be surrounded by other participants with a “that was a waste of time” attitude. You know, based on their attitude, they were right. Have a great day recruiting.

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