Why Do Most Managers Fail?

why do most managers fail?Lately I’ve been working with several new companies. The common denominator among these companies is that all have people problems. Big surprise, right? Isn’t that the problem for all companies? Yes, of course, and like all other organizations, these people problems start and stop with management. Where managers most often fail is in the people side, not the project or technical side of their role. If, as I’m suggesting, most managers fail at the single most critical aspect of their role…hiring, growing, mentoring, and developing their team, why do so many of them fail? And fail so miserably?

Before we talk about why managers fail, I want to define what I mean by fail. As I stated above, in my opinion, where managers fail is on the people side of managing. When I meet with company owners and executives, what I hear is that their managers are doing fine with managing projects and they are technically competent, but don’t know how to hire properly or developer others or think strategically. The list goes on and it’s the soft skills of people management that is always at the core of their frustration. Here are some examples of where managers fail on the people side.

  • Sometimes they get lucky and hire brilliantly, but more often six months into the employment they are wondering what they were thinking when they hired this person.
  • They keep having the same conversations over and over with team members and nothing changes.
  • They have too much to do and never get through everything because they hold on to tasks that others should be doing.
  • Team performance is inconsistent or lack luster.
  • Management’s idea of accountability differs greatly from the outcome.
  • Difficult conversations don’t happen, happens months too late, or aren’t handled well.
  • No one is being groomed to take over new roles or responsibilities which means there is no bench strength within the team.

And the list goes on.

What I ask myself is if every company knows that managers and leaders need to develop soft skills, the people skills component, why do so few managers have these skills? The question has no one answer as it is impacted by so many variables. There are a number of common themes I have observed that will always affect the success of managers.

  • Limited or no leadership development for managers. Sending managers to a class, or even a series of classes on leadership and assuming they are now trained is ridiculous. Learning isn’t a process whereby you put someone in a seat, teach, and assume they got it.
  • Leaders at the very top are poor managers themselves, and don’t invest time or resources to develop and mentor those they lead. Where do managers learn if not from those around them?
  • Very few managers know how to successfully interview. I’d say very few people in any company know how to interview so they really get to know the person, not what the candidates want you to know about them. Interviewing is a mix of science and art. Very few people understand this, and also know how to mix the two.
  • We throw people into management and assume they will now know what to do. Let’s not forget, at some point the people they are managing might have been their peers. It’s different being a member of the team, and now the manager.
  • It’s not uncommon for someone in management to assume they know what to do and how to manage people because they have the title. They dismiss ideas, insights, or advice from others as immaterial, wrong, or think it doesn’t apply to them.
  • Managers who think that technical proficiency is what got them to their current role and is the factor that matters for their success. They either have limited EQ or place no value on the people side of the equation at all.
  • Most people do not know how to communicate with other human beings, personally or professionally. Successful communication is the key to everything that works or doesn’t within an organization or team. If you think telling, yelling, or ignoring are good communication skills, it’s likely a key reason managing is so difficult for you.
  • Tactical orientation in everything a manager does is going to limit their growth and the growth of those who work for them.
  • A common problem I see are companies that keep someone on board who should have been terminated long ago. This is a bad decision at so many levels.

And again, the list goes on.

Managers fail because they focus on the wrong measurements for their success (technical competencies) or because they don’t care enough to not fail. That’s a strong statement, I know. I expect I’ll get push back with many of you thinking that the company doesn’t provide the resources or training for managers, or accepts mediocrity with their leadership team, and thus a manager can’t be at fault. I would argue that even if a company offers no training or mentoring for managers it doesn’t excuse them from getting what they need on their own. When I was in sales, even when I was making very little money, I invested in books and audio programs and workshops/trainings on my own and then came back and practiced those skills. I still invest in my own development by attending conferences, training, reading dozens of books a year, purchasing programs, and having a coach to build my skills, shift my thinking, and get me out of my own way. Just because the company doesn’t invest does not mean the individual managers can’t and shouldn’t invest in themselves. If being successful is important to us, we do whatever is required to get there.

Management is not a slot on an org chart, and having the title of manager does not make anyone a manager. Thinking it does means you have no clue what management truly is. Being a successful manager is hard work and it’s more than showing up every day and having a few conversations with people. Go find out what it takes to be a successful manager. Maybe once you discover what it means, you’ll realize management isn’t for you.

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