Added by Craig Steel
Why managers fail

Everywhere we look these days, it seems there’s another programme available to help managers succeed as a leader.

Two managers looking at each other

Everywhere we look these days, it seems there’s another programme available to help managers succeed as a leader.

Given the importance of leadership in the workplace, it’s little wonder training companies are working hard to come up with the next thing to meet the needs of businesses.

However, for all the money invested in leadership development, it’s clear the majority of initiatives to support it fall short.

It is important to understand why this is the case because if we don’t, we will not only waste time and energy looking for a breakthrough that’ll never eventuate, we will negate our managers' efforts to fulfil the role we need them to deliver.


So what’s the issue?

The reason training programmes don’t (typically) work is because they’re either focused on people’s styles and personalities which are immaterial as they are who they are so cannot be expected to change, or because they focus on tools and tactics the business itself doesn’t apply, meaning they can’t be leveraged to improve its outcomes.

As a result, conventional efforts to improve leader effectiveness continue to miss the mark hence they offer little more than ‘personal’ development for managers.

If an organisation is serious about improving its performance, it has to improve the performance and productivity of its people. To do this, it has to equip its leaders (managers) with the tools to drive the changes the business requires from its workforce.

By tools, we mean the mechanisms needed to lift the performance of the company as opposed to tips to help the odd individual.

The fact is, if a business is to realise greater value from its existing assets, it has to pull the right levers that impact the masses rather than trying to address gaps in individuals on the assumption it will provide the answer.

The reason organisations continue to invest in leadership programmes is not because they work per se, it’s because there’s never been a proven alternative. As a result, HR managers send staff on courses hoping it will address their shortcomings even though they know it won't change the business.

For this reason, the managers who attend such courses interpret their learnings as either ‘tips’ and ‘tricks‘ to add to their repertoire or ‘plugs’ to address their managerial weaknesses.

However, because these things are unique to them, they don’t change the way the organisation operates meaning the impact it has on the company is more or less irrelevant.

As such, the interventions themselves can’t be leveraged on masse, therefore, they are largely ineffective for big organisations even though they are entirely appropriate for small businesses with flat structures.

While there’s no doubt the development of people is equally critical to large-scale employers as it is to SME’s, executives have to think about lifting the performance of entire cohorts rather than looking for breakthroughs through individual members of staff.

For example, if a company had a couple of hundred managers, it would be a waste of time trying to change its fortunes by focusing on the needs of its individual managers. Instead, what it should do is define the purpose of each cohort or ‘level’ in the business and then introduce the right mechanism to help them transform the performance of their respective functions.

By introducing masse interventions, organisations can lift the performance of each level of their business thereby realising the improvements it’s looking for.

In other words, by step-changing the impact of each cohort, organisations can ratchet up their effectiveness thereby transforming their productivity as a business.

However, if organisations continue to focus on the needs of their individual managers, they will not only miss the opportunity to change the business, they will set their managers up to fail as their impact on the organisation as a whole won’t change.


Why are managers themselves falling short?

The reason individual managers rarely live up to their potential is that most are promoted on the grounds of their technical skill sets.

As a result, they presume they’ve been selected because of their superior skills which not only undermines their interpretation of leadership, it encourages them to try and stay ahead of the pack. This inadvertently suppresses the advancement of those around them because they believe the only thing that keeps them safe in their role is what they know that others don’t.

This leads to a compulsion to control their people to keep them in check – to retain their status – rather than focusing on their development to increase their impact on the business.

Because these behaviours are embedded in organisational cultures, any effort to improve their leadership is interpreted as an ‘additional’ learning to retain their position rather than a resetting of the organisation’s expectation of their role.

As a consequence, they focus on aligning their people to them to remain the centrepiece of their workgroup rather than aligning them to the aspirations of the business. These behaviours exacerbate the formation of allegiances (fiefdoms) hence most employees put their relationship with their manager ahead of the one they have with the business.

Because organisations continue to look at it through the wrong lens, they interpret such loyalties as a sign of good leadership rather than an indication of their managers' confusion. This in turn not only promotes siloed thinking thereby negating the organisation's ability to improve its outputs, it turns them into political institutions hence it’s all about who staff know and where they fit in the hierarchy.

In other words, the reason the vast majority of managers are failing is not because they are incompetent people who don’t care. It’s because they’ve been led to believe that what matters is having a skill set the business values and a team who appreciates their efforts to protect them from the demands of upper management. As a consequence, they reward behaviours they think will make them look good rather than connecting their people to the company’s vision in order to help them deliver better outcomes for their stakeholders.


If you would like a proven way to step-change the performance of your business, our performance improvement programmes are the answer.

To find out more, call us on +64 9 570 2664 or email us at 


See also: Leading the change



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