The Hard Realities of Managing People

Bruce Tulgan

Bruce Tulgan

Founder of RainmakerThinking, Inc. and Top Expert on Leadership Development and Generational Issues in the Workplace

It is our mission to fight the undermanagement epidemic and spread the word about highly engaged management. So many leaders, managers, and supervisors are held back by the belief that a strong, hands-on approach to management is wrong. Many participants in my seminars tell me, "I feel like you are giving me permission to manage, to be the boss. What a breath of fresh air!" And yet, at the same time, their employers say, "This is basic common sense! Of course, managers have to manage, plain and simple."

Where does the disconnect come from? It's a two-pronged issue.



The Vast Majority of Managers Receive Little to No Training

Most managers move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they are very good at something. Typically, managers were once the high performers on their team - the ones with the most knowledge, skill, or experience. They probably know the work inside and out. But they are probably not especially good at managing people.

Once promoted, most new managers receive very little, if anything, in the way of effective management training. Indeed, it is usually the case that managers are thrust into their new positions head-first and at full-speed, under enormous pressure to improve team performance and deliver results. This could be for any number of reasons, whether because higher-ups in the organization don't understand the true value of leadership training, there are simply not enough resources to provide training to every manager, or the organization is mired in a longstanding culture of undermanagement.

Natural leaders are rare, and natural leaders who also happen to be great at the fundamentals of management are even rarer. While most people will get along in their management positions well enough without sufficient leadership training, it is unlikely that they will be able to take their teams or careers to the next level.


Most Leadership Training Doesn't Address the Hard Realities of Managing

The other factor at play here is that most leadership and management training today is dominated by a false empowerment approach. Increasingly, managers are being asked to adopt an exclusively facilitative approach in an attempt to empower employees: only provide guidance and direction when employees ask for it, trust that employees will be able to figure out best solutions or learn new skills on their own, allow people to work in their self-defined areas of strength and expertise. Basically, the lesson is that managers should let employees do things how they think they should be done and stay out of the way.

This approach may sound ideal, but the problem is that it only works in an ideal world. False empowerment thinking fails to address the hard realities of managing people:

  • You cannot always hire superstars. You have to hire the best person available and often that person is in the middle of the talent spectrum.
  • When you do hire superstars, they can be even harder to manage than average performers. Superstars are often ambitious high-achievers, and therefore more demanding of their immediate supervisors.
  • Even if you set expectations clearly, sometimes employees don't achieve those expectations.
  • Not everybody is a winner. Dealing with failure is a big part of managing people.
  • Employees cannot always work in their areas of strength or expertise because there is always other work to be done - the can cannot be kicked down the road indefinitely!
  • Employees don't always earn praise. And those who do earn praise usually want tangible rewards to go with it.
  • The bad news is that managing people is hard and it is getting harder. Employees of all ages, all levels of experience, and all levels of performance are becoming more demanding of their leaders and employers. False empowerment only exacerbates these issues.

    The good news is that when leaders, managers, and supervisors concentrate on back-to-basics, highly engaged management, things get a whole lot better. Rather than being hidden behind the scenes, allowed to fester unchecked, the hard realities of management are addressed with solutions and best practices that work.



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