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Why So Many Managers Fail

September 11, 2012

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People are hired for what they know, but they are fired for who they are. The most common mistake made by businesses is promoting their number one salesperson into the role of sales manager. In a single stroke, they deprive the company of their best producer and lower the productivity of their sales force with an ineffective manager.

Managing, mentoring and developing a team are totally different skills from those required for specific tasks. As a result, many newly promoted managers fail. They often regret having taken a management position. Many decide to leave the company or return to their previous jobs, leaving in their wake, a team of demoralized employees and a department in chaos.

Respondents to a survey of 191 top executives conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) cited these reasons that contribute to manager failure:

Inability to get along.

Poor interpersonal skills are the single biggest reason for failure, particularly in the early and middle stages of a manager’s career. For some, the problem is the ability to inspire and win loyalty with subordinates. This is usually the result of poor listening skills and the inability to give and take criticism well. These managers often view conflict as something bad, instead of something inevitable that needs to be handled.

The “me only” syndrome.

These self-centered managers have an overriding concern for being in the spotlight. They worry about how much credit they’re getting, how much money they’re making, and how fast they’re moving up the ladder. They alienate others by constantly demanding recognition and they seem incapable of any selfless acts towards others. Just as a successful business must pay attention to its customers, a successful manager must use team-oriented approaches and pay attention to the needs of his or her subordinates.

Failure to adapt.

This manager was at one point very successful, and now clings to an unsuccessful management style or business strategy long after it stops producing results. This rigidity and lack of flexibility is ultimately a self-defeating style. One respondent stated, “The traits my boss once found endearing in me—my outspokenness, my strong opinions, my negotiating toughness—became annoying and unacceptable” when the company’s entrepreneurial focus was abandoned.

Fear of action.

Managers who hesitate to put themselves on the line and act will eventually jeopardize their careers. Such a manager over-analyzes every situation, fails to take action and is primarily motivated by avoiding risk. This lack of assertiveness is often closely linked with the failure to adapt.

Inability to rebound.

Managers succeed by making decisions, taking risks and at times failing. It is absolutely critical to be able to bounce back after a failure. Managers who become defensive or try to blame others, don’t rebound and they fail to learn from their mistakes. An individual’s past success is not an indicator of their success in management. Yet, there are scores of companies that are promoting their best customer service representative to call center manager, their best programmer to information systems manager and their best salesperson to sales manager.

In each of these instances, they are taking the risk of removing a good performer and creating a poor manager. If your organization is committed to developing superior managers and executives, it is critical to develop a solid leadership and management development-training program. Many organizations throw money at training to address specific problems such as poor communication or motivation skills. There’s an assumption that once people reach a certain level of self-sufficiency, they’ll take over the learning process themselves. On the contrary, new managers want and need more training to help them to succeed.

But it’s a mistake to think that training will resolve the problems that were created by putting the wrong person in the job in the first place.

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