Great Managers are Made Not Born

Great Managers are Made Not Born

May 16, 2016

In business, we regularly promote our best and brightest performers to positions in which they have absolutely no expertise, experience or knowledge, and expect them to perform despite a total dearth of instruction, training, practice or correction.

“Nonsense” you say. “People rise based on their track records.”

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 fulfilling a subject matter function to managing even one other person for the first time, we have done what I describe. Whether he was a great bookkeeper, editor, computer network engineer, admin, project manager, roofer or restaurant hostess, 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 IT professional, 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, trouble-shooting, instruction and experience. As much as it includes a great deal of discrete areas of knowledge having to do with computers, networks, software coding connections and so forth, it lacks any information or expertise about a good deal more. While, say, communicating is part of the job of an IT specialist, it is not really a relevant core competency. Neither is leadership, people management, training others, holding meetings, eliciting the best from others, developing succession plans, strategizing growth or innovation and so forth. But it is very common for someone who excels at a position similar to an IT specialist to find themselves promoted to a managerial or executive role that requires expertise in all of those areas.  It happens every day. And in most cases, no development or training is offered, no access to practice, or correction, no teaching or instruction and no coaching comes with the position.

cogs-in-machineThe same thing happens with solopreneurs who launch a business out of a particular expertise. 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, styling and the requisite creative and technical services, and renting a storefront, hiring employees, maintaining books, overseeing inventory, growing a brand and all the other aspects of running a small business. The two roles — hairdresser and salon owner — have far more distinguishing them from each other than they have in common.  Yet there is an unspoken assumption that being good at some activity means that you would naturally be able to succeed in the business of selling that expertise or managing others in the area. It’s a largely unexplored and false equivalence that leads thousands of people into abject anxiety, ignorance, financial ruin, unhappiness and ignominy every year.

So, if you are a business owner or executive and are eyeing some of your team-members for future advancement into management roles, you may want to ask and answer some preliminary questions and begin laying groundwork for your protégés to succeed.

  1. Will my employee have to manage other people in his new role? If the answer to this is yes, it may behoove you to offer her some 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 been lucky enough to have 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.
  2. In the new role, will my employee have clear goals and metrics to determine her success at regular intervals? Very often, when people are promoted it is a great celebration that includes 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 protégé to gauge her progress and request help when needed.
  3. In the new role, how am I supporting my protégé in developing herself on an ongoing basis? Why assume that “on-the-job” learning will occur. What mostly happens is that people muddle through, and only learn from gross errors. In the absence of gross errors, they attain a competent level of mediocrity and have no way to get beyond that. By providing a professional coach for your protégé, you are essentially giving her the tools to become better and better in her new role. This benefits everyone; the protégé by giving her coaching and correction, and her subordinates by giving them a great boss who is always improving.

Managing people is a skill. It has a body of knowledge including information, habits, skills and technique. If you promote people without giving them the tools and structure to succeed, you are essentially asking the blind to lead the blind. But if you provide training and coaching for your new managers, you can turn them into extraordinary leaders and build a foundation for your organization’s 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 and lead your enterprise into a visionary future.


Giving your employees a professional, executive coach to guide them and train them can set the foundation for a long, successful career — and a great enterprise.   Contact me for a complimentary initial consultation


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