Think Managing People is Easy? Think Again

The reality is that not everyone is cut out to be a manager. This is proven every day in virtually every business on the planet. Think about people you have worked for. How many really were good managers? All of them? Most of them? Only a few of them? If your answer was only a few of them, it would be consistent with what’s seen in most businesses.

Some of the failure of management personnel can be attributed to a lack of understanding of management fundamentals. But in most cases, the people who are not effectively managing their direct reports and functions are falling short because they just aren’t “wired” properly for managing.

Everyone has different inclinations based on their ability to learn, their interests and their personalities. And every position in an organization requires different combinations of these three attributes. Some people are very much cut out for being an accountant, for example, but the same traits and qualities that make a good accountant are rarely the same traits and qualities that make a good sales rep. The same holds true for managing people. While the person who is a good accountant, that doesn’t mean they are cut out to manage people.

People tend to gravitate toward professions that they feel comfortable in. What happens when we take a person who is comfortable with and good at a particular job and promote them into a job they are ill suited for? This is the equivalent of forcing a square peg into a round hole. And it’s likely that all of the supervisory, coaching and team building training in the world isn’t going to make that person an effective manager.

Unfortunately, the business community is guilty of consistently mismatching people to jobs. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the supervisory and management ranks. Why does this happen? There are a number of reasons, but very often people are promoted into management positions because they are doing an excellent job in their current position.

So, what do we do? We promote them into a position that they are, in many cases, ill-equipped to handle. They were probably successful in their other position because they were well matched for it in terms of their general abilities, their interests and their personalities. They thrived on the work and enjoyed it. Now we move them into a management position and ask them to do something they aren’t comfortable with or capable of doing well.

This scenario is played out repeatedly in businesses everywhere. Of course, the employee often yearns to move up because there is more money and status associated with being part of management. But when we promote employees who are not cut out for management, aren’t we really doing both the employee and the company a disservice? This creates an obvious dilemma since it is important that employees be provided an opportunity to advance. But shouldn’t we deal with this dilemma by carefully selecting those that we promote into management and supervisory positions?

When a manager or supervisor is expected to meet expectations they can’t meet, we simply set them up for failure. Isn’t the employee and the company better off by not putting employees into supervisory or management positions where they can’t be effective? Hiring and promoting people into management positions that they aren’t well suited for has a cumulative and compounding effect. They aren’t effective in dealing with the people who report to them leading to underperformance of their work unit. The employees are affected in terms of reduced morale, productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Good employees will tend to quit under these circumstances. Now we potentially have a marginal manager, marginal performance of employees and a turnover problem to deal with. Multiply this effect by the number of miscast managers/supervisors and you can quickly begin to see the overall impact on the organization.

Ask yourself these questions to get some idea as to your suitability for management:

  • Do I have the ability to be direct without feeling guilty?
  • Do I care about people?
  • Do I have strong interpersonal skills?
  • Am I capable of organizing work flow and projects?
  • Do I have a strong desire to succeed and to see my employees succeed?
  • Do people seem to respect me and my opinion?
  • Am I a quick learner?
  • Am I interested in people and processes?
  • Am I motivated by hard work and challenges?
  • Can I follow up on the details consistently to ensure that expectations are being met?
  • Do I welcome interaction with individuals and groups?
  • Do I feel comfortable leading meetings?
  • Do I have a level of tenacity and discipline that will allow me to stay on task easily?
  • Am I comfortable in dealing with tense situations or ones where conflict is involved?
  • Am I able to remain calm under difficult circumstances?
  • Do I have the ability to be innovative in finding solutions to problems or finding new ways to do things?
  • Do I have a sense of urgency about getting things done without panicking?
  • Am I willing to take some risks when necessary?
  • Am I open minded?
  • Can I communicate clearly and effectively?
  • Am I a good teacher?
  • Do I read people effectively?
  • Can I effectively see the big picture? (Can I see beyond the details?)
  • Am I secure about myself and my abilities and can I shoulder criticism well?
  • Am I willing to relinquish control and authority when necessary?

While there are other questions that could be asked, this list provides a quick review of your suitability to management. The more “yes” answers you have the better suited you probably are to a management position. One of the problems with self-assessment is that people tend to force “yes” responses to rationalize the fact they want to be a manager or are already a manager.

It’s not easy for most people to be honest with themselves. Some of the most dangerous people in an organization are those who think they are good managers, but in reality are causing significant problems. And these people rarely can see or will admit to their shortcomings. But others around you can often see your shortcomings. While certainly not the same as a dating relationship, those around you are reading people in the workplace including you just like they would if they were reading someone they were trying to establish a more intimate relationship with. Why? Because both the employer-employee relationship and a romantic relationship are extremely important to them. And, since they are so important, they are going to be looking at how you conduct yourself and how effective you are in a leadership role.

The bottom line is that many people who currently hold management positions have no business holding them. If this applies to you, be honest with yourself and either change your behavior to become a better manager or move into something you will feel more comfortable with and can excel at.

If you have managers or supervisors working for you who will just never be able to be effective in a management role, take action to cut your losses. All involved should feel better about the situation and the company will be better off as long as someone who is well suited to the job is put into the vacated position. In some cases, the employee is relieved that they will no longer have to manage. In other cases, they will fail to see their shortcomings and blame you for their failure. That’s human nature and there’s not much you can do to counter it. But your first responsibility is to the organization as a whole.

For more information on managing people, check out this eBook.

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