Why Most Managers Suck

Aaron Levy
May 15, 2018 · 4 min read

Most managers suck, and it’s not their fault.

When a business leader needs to fill a management role, the natural thought is to look at top performers. We pluck them out of their role as individual contributors and put them into a management role, as a team lead. We do this because they are good at their job, NOT because they are good at leading people. This is the problem.

Just because someone is a top performer, does not mean they will be a great leader. Leading and performing require vastly different skillsets. In fact, only 10% of employees naturally have the tools and skills to be great leaders. We often pick the wrong person because we are not looking at the right set of skills. We look at their key performance indicators, not their ability to listen to others or deliver critical feedback. We fail to assess their people skills, ultimately, setting them up for failure.

What’s the impact of a bad manager?

Having the wrong person in the wrong seat hurts the business on many levels. Not only is the manager being asked to be accountable for the growth, development, and success of a team of people, she is also expected to continue performing on the same level herself. The results are often a failure on both ends.

You lose a top performer. You create a team of frustrated employees who are also not performing. The frustration can only last so long before you start to lose employees and it all stems from this single manager promotion.

The impact of picking a bad manager never seems to end for a company. That’s why it’s so critical to get this right.

The manager is still the number one reason people and millennials leave their job.

How can I get it right?

The most important thing to do is make sure you have the right people in the right seats. This means taking a step back and looking at your hiring and promotion practices of leaders. When hiring a manager, you should look for these two things:

First, do they want to lead?

This is the single biggest factor in developing as a leader.

An executive asked me the other day, “Are there just some people who aren’t meant to lead?”

I say no. Anyone can lead if they have the desire to learn how, if they are willing to do the work.

One huge lesson I’ve learned in my training of leaders is that those who are the most successful in our training are the people who want it, who want to grow and develop themselves as leaders. If you don’t want it, then you shouldn’t be leading, and that’s OK too.

Sometimes this takes letting go of the old work structures that say to get ahead in business you need to manage people. It’s time to recognize there are other paths to growth within an organization. It’s OK to promote individual contributors up in the ranks of your organization without giving them a team to lead. Why do we have to pluck a top individual contributor out of what they are good at and force them into something they don’t want?

There’s no reason, and we can stop this now by promoting those who want to lead into leadership roles and creating avenues for those who don’t.

If someone does want to lead a team, then you need to look at them honestly and determine if they have the tools and skills.

You might be wondering, why don’t we ask this first before determining if they want to lead? Tools and skills develop, if and only if, the manager wants to grow.

If they don’t have the tools and skills, there’s a simple solution. Invest in helping them develop the skills. Start small and focused. The four most important skills any leader can develop is their ability to listen with intention and attention, ask powerful questions, communicate directly and hold critical conversations. Managers who practice these skills daily can motivate, evaluate and lead their teams successfully.

Are you willing to rethink how you pick your leaders? Are you ready to do the work it takes to empower them?

If you are, you’ll be in rare company, as most organizations don’t take the time to be so thoughtful and deliberate about picking the right people to lead their organization.

Management can change from something that once held your company back to your competitive advantage. It drives positive engagement, business results and generates a cycle of talent development and attraction feeding long-term success.

Originally published in Forbes

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