You’re barely managing

11 Sep, 2023

I believe the following to be true:

  1. Bad managers are the cause of a lot of employee unhappiness.
  2. Bad managers are the cause of a lot of workplace failure, i.e., late projects, subpar products, and unmet goals.
  3. Managers are one of the most under-supported cohorts of employees on the planet.

How many managers do you know who studied to be managers of people?

I mean more than a couple of one-day courses; I mean someone who studied to be a manager the way someone studied to be a software engineer or doctor.

I personally don’t know anyone, and while those degrees definitely exist, it’s got me wondering: of the total managers in the world, how many of them have those qualifications? Is it even 1%?

Just imagine if other professions had that split of self-taught vs. formally taught. Plumbers, doctors, lawyers... There would be massive variability in the quality of their work and their overall success, and yet that’s the exact gamble every company around the world is taking.

So how are the 99% becoming managers?

Julie Zhuo, author of The Making of a Manager, writes about the four paths to becoming a manager:

  • The Apprentice: The team is expanding and is too large for one manager, and so you are tapped to step into a newly needed role.
  • The Pioneer: You were the founding member of a new group and, by proxy, its leader.
  • The New Boss: You are hired to manage an entirely new team.
  • The Successor: The previous manager has left, and you are the obvious choice.

With the exception of the ‘New Boss’, most of the ways that people become managers are through time under a pre-existing manager, and this is what drives me to believe 99% of managers aren't trained. It's always a role someone grows into.

We are always taking someone who is highly performant or experienced (not necessarily the same thing) in the 'doing' of a role in the team, what I call the ‘technical’ stuff, and based off some light leadership examples such as leading projects or being a mentor, are deemed fit enough to now run an entire team.

I wouldn’t have as much of an issue with this if it weren’t for the fact that once people become managers, they are almost certainly left to fend for themselves and self-teach themselves the job.

It makes absolutely no sense, and no other profession in the world works like this. We don’t promote someone to doctor after seeing some promising medical abilities and hoping they magically teach themselves how to not kill someone.

What flummoxes me even more is that so much risk to the company hinges on how successful managers are at their jobs, and yet companies turn such a blind eye to this problem.

Companies will invest millions of dollars to reduce the amount of variance in risk in finance, security, intellectual property, and other key areas, but not enough goes towards getting all of their managers up to the same level of competence and onto the same page.

They often leave it to the local level, hoping the manager above the new manager mentors them, which just creates a circular problem if that manager themselves isn’t a good mentor (not everyone who can do can teach) or worse, is a bad manager themselves. Not to mention they themselves have been self-taught; what bad habits have they not corrected?

This then leaves HR (or whatever we are calling this department this month) to try and pick up the slack. While I have found HR to be great in a one-on-one capacity, provided they themselves are good at their job, I’ve been witness to multiple roll-outs of ‘one-size-fits-all’ management training days and intranet portal content, and they never meet the mark.

They are often too generic and impersonal, and they are often starting at ground zero, like how to approve leave and manage expense claims. They never get into the nitty gritty or teach anything that can be truly applied in the 'field'.

It’s not enough, and it’s hurting everyone. I generally believe that most managers are barely managing.

I generally believe that most managers are barely managing

Both in the sense that I do not believe them to be doing enough as a manager for their team and the company, but also in the sense that I can often see them drowning, personally struggling to do their job. Surviving, not thriving.

This series will provide my personal guidance on both how to be a manager and how to do the job of managing people.

I care for both the people you are responsible for. I want them to not quit because of you.

I also care for you, the manager, who has found themselves in such a position of power and responsibility with minimal support.

You do not need to read this entire thing A-Z like a tome, but instead I encourage you to casually work through the core articles (they will be highlighted) and then jump around to any others that catch your interest.

Bookmark this blog, come back to it when a problem arises at work, and find the piece of advice that is applicable to you and figure out how to implement it. Then don't come back until the next time you need it.

Feel free to reach out if you have a question, all my links are in my Linktree and if you want to show some extra gratitude you can buy me a coffee through my Linktree.

Good Luck and don't fuck it up.

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