Great Managers are NOT Born, They're Made

Great Managers are NOT Born, They’re Made

August 26, 2019
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In business, we regularly promote our best and brightest performers to positions in which they have absolutely no expertise, experience or knowledge. Yes, we do. Not only that, we expect them to perform brilliantly although they have received no instruction, training, practice or correction.

“Nonsense” you say. “People rise when they’re great at their jobs.”

Yes, to a point that’s true. But consider this: Every time someone in an organization is promoted to a position in which he goes from individual contributor to managing even one other person for the first time, that’s what happened. Perhaps he was a great salesperson, computer network engineer, admin, project manager, roofer or restaurant hostess. Nonetheless, the lack of direct experience as a manager and leader means that in the new role of managing others, he is clueless.

Imagine you have been a great network engineer, and know tons about networking, computer software, setting up LANs and WANs and ensuring IT security. That expertise came from a combination of education, study, practice, troubleshooting, instruction and experience. As much as it includes a great deal of knowledge about computers, networks, software coding connections and so forth, it simultaneously lacks experience, knowledge or training about everything that isn’t that. While, say, communicating is part of the job of an engineer, it is ancillary to the primary expertise. That’s also true of leadership, coaching, holding meetings, developing succession plans, holding people to account, strategizing growth and innovation and more. But it is very common for someone who excels at a position like an engineer to find themselves promoted to an executive role that requires expertise in all of those areas.  It happens every day. Usually, no training, education, practice, or correction, no teaching or instruction and no coaching comes with the position.

The same thing happens with solopreneurs who launch a business doing what they do well. If you are a great hairdresser and have a huge and happy clientele, how does that prepare you to own a salon? There is very little overlap between the skills required to provide fantastic haircuts, color or styling, and those used in negotiating a lease, hiring employees, maintaining books, overseeing inventory, buying advertising and all the other aspects of running a small business. The two roles — hairdresser and salon owner — are more different than alike.  Yet in every business and walk of life, we expect people to make this kind of leap easily, naturally and expertly.  Plus, we tie compensation to that order of ascendency. More direct reports, more money. We accept it as though it’s a law of the universe rather than a truly weird oddity of western business.

It’s a false equivalence. Doing something well doesn’t mean you will be good at managing or leading others who do that same thing. This reality causes a lot of failure, missed bonuses, unhappy employees and small business bankruptcies.

If you are a business owner or executive eyeing individual contributors for promotion to management, help them succeed with the right questions and support.

  1. How equipped is she for managing others? There are lots of ways to find out the answer to this question. Start with her job history. Has there been team leadership or management somewhere in the past, and if so, how did it go? Revisit the job interview, only with the questions that weren’t relevant then but are now.  If she oversaw a team in the past, how was success measured? For example, were there 360° surveys from which feedback is available? If so, get a hold of that data.
  2. Offer management training. People are not born with an innate ability to successfully manage other people. Our only role models for this are our parents and bosses, and most of us have not had great examples of either one. Instead, coaching and training in the skills, knowledge and technique of management can go a long way to creating a successful new manager or leader. By the way, management and leadership are not the same thing. But ideally, you want managers that are also good leaders. Still, the skills of each are different and require different training and abilities (despite them ideally overlapping).
  3. Provide clear goals and metrics for management. Very often, when people are promoted it is a great compliment that comes with very little structure to assess progress or determine areas that need work. By creating tangible, measurable goals for the position, and regular check-ins, you can help your new manager to gauge his progress and request help when needed. Those measurements should include both objective and subjective items (like sales and peer reviews) as well as team results (e.g., hitting revenue targets) and individual competencies (like creating valuable development plans for team-members).
  4. Provide direct coaching support to new managers. People rarely learn much about managing others on the job, instead, they muddle through, and only learn from gross errors. In the absence of giant mistakes, they attain acceptable competence and never get beyond that. By providing professional coaching for your managers, you formalize the process of improvement. This benefits everyone; the ‘promotee’ by providing coaching and correction, and their subordinates by giving them a great boss who is always improving.

Managing and leading people are skills. They have bodies of knowledge including information, habits, skills and techniques. If you promote people without giving them the tools and structure to succeed, you are shortchanging your own organization. But if you provide training and coaching for your new managers, you can turn them into extraordinary leaders and build a foundation for ongoing growth and excellence. Don’t leave it to chance. Plan your succession strategy with the end in mind and create managers who can excel at leading your enterprise into its best future.

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