I have spent my whole career helping managers of different shapes and sizes to manage people better.  I have also been a manager myself so it hasn’t just been ‘do as I say’ stuff. 

Most managers I worked with were what I’d describe as reluctant managers – and this includes me.  They were reluctant because, in order to progress, there had come a point in their career where they had to stop doing whatever they were good at and start getting results through other people. If you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up they say they want to be a pilot (it used to be an engine-driver!), or a nurse/doctor, or a teacher, or a lawyer – they might even say they want to be an accountant.  They don’t say they want to be a manager. This is very sensible of them because being a manager is nothing but trouble.

Who in their right mind would opt to have a bigger job than they can manage on their own without having to delegate parts of it to other people?  Who would opt to give up doing something that gave them satisfaction, and, quite possibly, recognition for their accomplishments, and instead take on the thankless task of trying to get the best out of people?  Who would expose themselves to never-ending criticism from disgruntled people who, if/when they become managers, will do no better?

The latest CIPD Employee Outlook survey has predictably gloomy feedback for on-a-hiding-to-nothing managers.  According to 2,000 employees they ‘don’t know how bad they are managing people’.  There are fascinating ‘reality gaps’ between what managers claim to be doing and what their staff perceive to be the case.  For example, managers say they meet each member of their staff twice a month to review their workload, that they often coach people and discuss their development needs, that they indulge in joint problem solving – and all the rest of it – but the survey suggests that they are kidding themselves. If managers are telling whoppers, at least we can take heart from the fact that they know what they should be doing.  Alternatively, maybe they are doing what they say they do but so subtly that staff don’t notice.  Simple to solve; have some notices at the ready saying things like, ‘I’m coaching you’, ‘I’m reviewing your workload’, ‘I’m offering you a development opportunity’.    

Anyway, all this manager-bashing should be taken with a large pinch of salt.  Upward grumbling is inevitable and universal; the managers I used to work with complained incessantly that their bosses were hopeless. No doubt if you’d surveyed my staff (too late now, I’m very pleased I haven’t got any!) they’d have said they didn’t see me enough, that I failed to give them enough direction, that I was too lax with poor performers and that there weren’t enough development opportunities.

How about giving managers a break and investing energy in getting staff to take more initiatives to get better value from their reluctant managers?  Just think, they could be encouraged to initiate conversations about their objectives, to ask questions if they weren’t clear, to invite feedback/coaching, to suggest how a development need could be met. 

Surely better than grumbling?    


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