Why is becoming a manager so great? Because finally, after all those years of butt-kissing, pride swallowing, teeth clenching agony, it’s your turn on top. You’re the boss now. It’s time for people to kiss your butt and fear your wrath. What you say goes.
That’s how it works, right? It must be because that’s what you’ve witnessed over and over: new managers ascend to their roles and start flexing their new authority.
They manage their teams the way they themselves have always been managed.
From generations of managers, they’ve learned how to keep their employees in line, and how to clamp down on feedback. They know how to criticize those who dare to venture out of their pigeonholes, and how to demand respect and loyalty. And they’ve learned that it’s OK to claim credit for the work of their team.
It’s almost as though their new title has turned them into a different person, one who has forgotten what it’s like to have a distant, non-communicative, dismissive manager. They don’t seem to remember how it feels when a manager is so focused on their boss, they neglect their employees, and who demand respect but don’t bother to earn it.
And somewhere on their team is another future manager, watching and learning.
For far too long, we have handed out promotions to management as rewards for succeeding at something completely unrelated. If you’re a strong contributor and you don’t make trouble, and if your boss likes you, you stand a decent chance of becoming a manager.
It makes no difference whether you know anything about managing. Or whether you know how to motivate a team. You need not be empathetic or intuitive. Honestly, you don’t even have to be a particularly good human being.
The result of this decades-old cycle is legions of managers who believe they are entitled to their roles but have no idea how to manage people. They have created abusive, unproductive workplaces and — according to the Society for Human Resource Management — they cost American companies hundreds of billions of dollars in turnover.
To break this cycle, companies must focus on promoting people who have the character traits all good managers have.
Good managers are collaborative. They’re good listeners and excellent communicators. They aren’t in it for the ego boost, and they don’t flaunt their authority and grind down their people. They use their position to develop and promote their teams, give them context, make sure everyone is at the same level. Their focus is on the people, the product, and the business.
Bad managers — most managers — believe it’s all about them. They think their teams are there to tend to their needs and respond to their whims. They think they got their jobs because they are somehow exceptional. This makes them dismissive and resistant to input. Their focus is on themselves, protecting their egos, and staying on the boss’s good side.
Deep down, many poor managers realize they lack something. Management makes them uncomfortable. They become overly aggressive, or they withdraw and focus only on managing up. They get insecure and defensive.
Insecure managers get in their own way. They can’t possibly keep their eyes on the business. So, there’s no way they can inspire great work or nurture new leaders or create a safe space for innovation.
But they can frustrate enthusiastic employees. They can chase away top performers who easily find more rewarding work elsewhere. And they can put a real dent in the bottom line.
That’s why companies must understand the character traits of good managers and promote only those who have the capacity to build and motivate teams and genuinely engage employees. These managers will reduce turnover, improve the bottom line, enhance the company’s reputation and inspire the next generation of great managers.