How to suck at management

Over the past six years, I’ve had 10 different managers. Only one of them was effective. Two were mediocre. The remaining seven were, well, frankly terrible.

People don’t leave a company, they leave bad managers.

I used to believe the most effective managers came from within their own field. In other words, the best sales managers came from sales, the best design managers came from design, the best engineering managers came from engineering…

After all, if you didn’t come from that field, how could you possibly manage people in it?

Spoiler alert—I no longer believe that.

If it’s true that the most effective managers come from within your field, then my most effective managers should have come from design, or a related field. Here’s the background of my last 10 managers, in no particular order, along with their effectiveness.

A quick audit shows:

  1. 50% came from a field related to mine, 40% from sales/marketing/business development, and 10% from technology.
  2. Of the three most effective, two were outside my field.
  3. Only one out of ten could be really be considered effective and they were outside my field.

What does this mean?

Correlation does not equal causation

Let’s start by what this doesn’t mean. Just because you come from within a field doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good manager. You might be a top performer in sales, quarter after quarter. People management, however, is an entirely different skill set.

Whether you went to school, or are self taught, you didn’t get to the top of your field without investing in yourself. It took education, training, and time — lots of time.

Unfortunately, people find their way into management roles without investing in their education, training, and time. They are not equipped with the tools they need to be effective managers, or leaders.

Characteristics of bad management

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I deserve to be a manager.”

  1. They make management about them.
  2. They focus on building a personal empire (a.k.a land grabbing).
  3. They listen waiting for the opportunity to speak, rather than listen to understand.
  4. They see people as subordinates reporting to them, rather than being responsible for the growth and development of those people.
  5. They feel entitled to the position, because they have so many years of experience as an individual contributor.
  6. They give the team answers, when they should be guiding the team to self discovery.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve reported to someone who’s made these mistakes. You might even be one of those managers who’s made some of these mistakes. I know I have.

When I first transitioned into management, I was guilty of giving answers over guiding the team to self discovery. If they’re asking for my opinion, I’m suppose to give it to them. After all, I am the one with the all the experience. Typical rookie mistake.

It took me years to learn that the greatest growth comes from coaching people into self discovery, not by giving them the answer.

Managers aren’t born, they’re made

Even if you were born for management or leadership, you still had to invest in yourself to become the great leader that you are. More than likely, you had a mentor, someone who invested in you as well.

The good news is, we can make better managers and leaders. If you’re considering going to into management or leadership, invest in yourself:

  1. Find a mentor, someone you admire whom you can learn from
  2. Read — There’s no shortage of material on management and leadership. Here’s a reading list to get you started.
  3. Build your own personal board of advisors — find three people in a leadership or management role whom you can learn from.
  4. Practice — find someone to mentor.
  5. Hire a coach — a leadership coach will help you build a personal growth and development plan.

If you’re in a position to place people into management, invest in them:

  1. Hire a leadership coach to help you build out a corporate program.
  2. Develop a leadership mentoring program.
  3. Build a leadership community of practice.
  4. Create a leadership playbook.

Where do you go from here

Zaki Warfel and Associates provides coaching, speaking, and training to transform leaders, teams, and organizations. Sign up for our newsletter and have bi-weekly insights delivered to your inbox.

Looking to transform your organization, or improve your leadership skills? Let’s connect to discuss your personal growth and leadership development plan. If I can’t help, I’ll connect you with someone who can.




Executive leadership coach. Speaker. Author.

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Todd Zaki Warfel

Todd Zaki Warfel

Executive leadership coach. Speaker. Author.

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