Brilliant Managers Aren’t Born, They’re Built! – The 6 Common Pitfalls Companies Should Avoid

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Unlike good athletes, who often are said to have god-given talents to succeed in their chosen field of sport, good managers become successful by acquiring their managerial skill set over time. Why is good management so important? John D. Rockefeller once said, “Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.” And Sam Walton said, “The way management treats associates is exactly how the associates will treat the customers.” Successful business leaders agree that good managers are vital to the success of a company.

Conversely, bad management negatively affects all aspects of our work-life. This lack of talent and leadership pervades all aspects of corporate America. Most of us have experienced a lousy manager or two in our career. The technology sector, with its relative “youth” compared to some of the older and more traditional industries like retail, manufacturing or healthcare, is not immune to bad management either.

The one factor that leads employees to their highest satisfaction and engagement in their job is – their immediate supervisor! Great managers improve morale, productivity and retention. Venture leaders should be seeing dollar signs when they read that. So how can you train and advance the managers that you already have in place to do just that?

Grooming good managers is the responsibility of every organization. Below are 6 pitfalls companies should avoid in their efforts to build a strong management team.

  1. Promotion for Individual Achievement – There’s no I in Team

Many organizations promote employees who have exceeded their individual goals to a management position. Elevation to a management position is often seen as the reward for doing a good job at your individual job. Unfortunately, this can have exactly the opposite affect for both the employee and the organization.

Many employees who are awe-inspiring individual contributors are frankly not prepared or interested in managing a team of people. Newly “appointed” managers often fail miserably when leading a large group because they are missing the leadership skills that great managers possess. The skills that made them individually successful are completely irrelevant and, in some cases, detrimental to being a manager and leading a group.

Many corporations don’t even provide these managers with any or enough tools to succeed. A person may conclude that they are not management material when in fact, with the proper training, they could be a fantastic manager. A “baptism by fire” or “throw them in the water to see if they can swim” approach to training new managers is rarely a successful approach.

Instead of holding a manager position out as a reward for outstanding individual accomplishment, the organization should reward those folks with greater levels of individual responsibility in the organization and bigger goals. Additionally, the organization should carefully cultivate star employees with an interest in management by grooming and teaching them good managerial skills before dropping them into these positions.

  1. Lack of Formal Management Training

Could you have learned to drive a car by climbing behind the wheel and backing out the driveway? The answer is maybe yes, but the process would most likely be fraught with danger, multiple accidents and lots of wasted time. The truth is, you might even conclude that you are a terrible driver when it fact that would not have been true if you had a good instructor.

Organizations often display their lack of understanding of the need for management training by not providing formal training programs. Large corporations regularly put managers “behind the wheel” of a team with no training or education.

Growing managers requires a focused and formal effort. Many institutes and organization specialize in providing these services to companies. Outsourced management training is often better because of its external, objective point of view. The Covey Institute and Dale Carnegie are examples; there are many others.

Some large organizations like GE even have inhouse world class institutes (Crotonville) to train managers (full disclosure: this author has attended GE’s Crotonville Institute during his stint at GE). These types of outside organizations work with companies to leverage their core competencies to build great management teams across all industries and verticals.

  1. Lack of Formal Mentors

The role of a manager can be a difficult one without the support of the organization behind them to help that manager succeed. If a manager has a question or a problem they are struggling with, who should they turn for help?

Going to superior to ask for advice or counsel, can often bring with it a “stigma” of appearing to be “incapable,” which the manager might avoid for fear it would affect future promotions. In fact, I’ve heard senior managers disparage the failings of junior managers, instead of using these as “teaching moments” to help train and educate their managers to up-their-game to make the entire team more successful. In this case, you can see how both levels of management need help.

In a competitive work environment, turning to a peer manager could potentially invite the possibility for an unscrupulous manager to take advantage of your management challenge to “cherry pick” the best talent from your team. Finally, looking to subordinates for input is not an option either because that may invite career killing “water cooler” talk.

Therefore, organizations looking to grow a strong management team should create the opportunity for managers to have a formal mentor, or even an informal set of mentors, to whom managers can turn to in their times of need, without judgement being passed. These mentors would not be in the reporting chain of these managers and as such represent a “no risk” mechanism for managers to lean on during their tough times.

  1. Managing Outside Ones Wheelhouse

A critical mistake often made is to give managers ownership of an area in which they have little or no experience. Think about it for a second, if you went to a doctor or dentist, only to find that they haven’t trained in the specialty they claim, you’d be out of that office as fast as your legs could get you out the door. The same thing is true for any work environment.

Often organizations give managers areas of ownership outside of their expertise base to “grow” the executive or to have them “fix” a broken area where they need help. Unfortunately, if the manager has no background in that new area, it is more likely that the situation will deteriorate, rather than improve.

In fact, if you are unlucky enough to be on one of these teams, you’ll often find that you’re not only doing your job, but also your manager’s job as well. In these types of teams, employees are expected to make all of the management decisions as well as train their managers along with doing their regular job. It’s clear why employees put in this situation become disgruntled quickly.

No one wants to be a part of that kind of team. It can lead to frustration and attrition. If this is happening in your organization, take a hard look at the manager. Fortunately there is an easy way to solve this problem. When hiring or appointing a manager, add some key members of the group (who will be reporting to this person and have experience on the job) to the hiring loop for feedback and to give team members a voice in the hiring of their manager. Their feedback will provide valuable information on the candidate’s level of competency and if they will be a good fit for the team. Adding the voice-of-the-team to the interview loop may spare you a difficult management hire and will win the “hearts and minds” of the team in question.

  1. Using the Employee Review Inappropriately

Sometimes employee reviews in an organization are used to document a pre-determined action. This is definitely not what a review is intended for, and if it is the case that this is how the review process has de-evolved in your organization, then watch for it and take appropriate action to address this abuse of the review process.

Instead the review should be used to help assess the employee’s strengths and weaknesses and help develop an action plan to build upon weakness and ensure that strengths are leveraged appropriately within the organization.

The reviews should be kept so that an employee’s progress can be monitored and assessed over time. This serves both as a paper-trail documenting successes as well as areas of continued need for improvement. The review is a tool for employee improvement and to uplift; it should not be used to suppress or punish the employee.

  1. Failing to Rinse and Repeat

In organizations where there is some level of training it is often a one-time, one-and-done approach. Just like a company’s products and services evolve over time and customers needs change, so too does the need to continually train leaders over the course of their career as managers.

Often the need arises from new products and services the company introduces into market, which bring new challenges that the manager needs to address as a front-line and therefore customer-facing individual in the company. Furthermore as the workforce of an organization evolves, so does the need for the organization to grow their manager’s abilities to handle the challenges of an evolving workforce.

For example, millennials are hitting the workforce in larger numbers. Are your managers equipped to work with this “new” breed of employees and their needs, wants and expectations. The general consensus on this group of employees, is that they’re not like your father’s Oldsmobile. Their motivations are different and their managers need to be prepared to handle this change or find themselves behind-the-curve as their workforce shifts.

This is just one example of why an organization needs to ensure that it looks at manager training as a continual activity and engages in it across a manager’s career, not just once at the beginning when they’re promoted to manager. Hopefully your organization can benefit from some of these tips on how nurturing and enriching management training positively affects the work environment for all of your employees.


If you have any questions, please drop me a note. I’d be happy to provide you with advice and guidance. Please read and share all of my blogs at

About this blog – The goal of this blog is to share my experiences, to capture and reveal valuable insights, and to draw from my serial entrepreneur-ship through 7 ventures over the past 20 years. I have encountered many impressive entrepreneurs along the way and I hope to share our collective experience with you to help teach and perhaps motivate you to launch your own B2B or B2C enterprise.

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