The manager's missing link

2009

Why is it that five years after getting promoted, seventy-five percent of first-time managers are still struggling to be effective in their position?

The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that they've never been taught how to master their core responsibilities - the heart of which is becoming an expert about the people they manage.

The overwhelming percentage of new managers receive very little training in this area. Sure, they'll get training in how to create work schedules, the ins and outs of the company's disciplinary procedures, and myriad other technical aspects of their jobs. But the missing link for optimal success is learning how to cultivate the passion of the people on their teams.

If you've ever been part of a team and you were mismanaged, you probably didn't feel like giving your all. This is why so many teams are "average" or "mediocre." The missing link is almost always the manager not valuing the differences of the people on the team, and failing to bring out the best in them. Yet it's difficult for managers to motivate their teams to top levels of performance if they've not been taught how.

Imagine a cook being promoted to "gourmet chef" after several years working in a hamburger cafe, but only receiving training in the company's hiring procedures, how to create work schedules, and how to order product. I don't care if the guy makes the best burgers in the world, if he's not trained in how to create gourmet dishes he'll have a tough time in his new job.

Gourmet chefs are schooled in the nuances and capabilities of various spices, the flavors of the basic ingredients, and which cooking processes will get the best taste and visual appeal. As a result they learn to create incredibly delicious dishes. However, this knowledge does not come by osmosis (nor by flipping burgers at a greasy spoon). Quality chefs acquire their knowledge through focused study combined with a desire to create culinary specialties that are appealing to the eye as well as the palate.

The process is no different for managers. People may have years of experience in their front-line work, but being a manager requires learning an entirely new skill set. Again, this is the missing link for so a manager: becoming an expert about the people on their team.

As managers learn about the people on their teams, they must remember three things:

  1. Know that everyone is different
  2. Know what those differences are
  3. Value the differences

What to study
Perhaps the easiest way to become an expert about the people you manage is to learn the different ways they think, the different ways they prefer to act, and their different motivations. A simple way to remember this is "Head, Hands, and Heart."

Study the different ways people perceive and process information, along with how they make decisions. People often prefer one method over another, and just because you, the manager, like a particular method, it doesn't mean it's the best method for everyone. Expecting everyone to think like you creates a team of clones. It's incumbent upon managers to learn - and value - the different ways people think.

Also study the different ways people behave. Some attack problems with gusto, while others take their time. Strengths and weaknesses are found in each preference. Managers should understand these differences—and value them. The same is true with the different ways people interact, how fast they can adjust to change, and how closely they adhere to rules.

Study also the different ways people are motivated (their hearts). Contrary to what many managers believe, not everyone is motivated by more money. Again, you can choose to criticize what motivates someone, or you can value it. Criticizing someone's thinking, behavior, or motivations just because they're different might temporarily inflate your own ego, but it's guaranteed to place a barrier between that person and his or her optimal performance.

Marilyn learned this and put it work with great results. She worked in production before being promoted to management to supervise a team of 20 people. Things were going okay for her, but after attending one of my teambuilding workshops she worked hard at becoming a student of her team members. She also adopted the phrase "value the differences." It practically became her mantra.

Every time someone was the least bit critical of someone else, Marilyn would recite her now favorite phrase and point out the person's strengths and contributions to the team. Within a few short weeks the phrase "value the differences" permeated her entire team, with a noticeable difference in morale and productivity.

Bottom line, the missing link for most managers is becoming an expert about the people on their teams. Now that you know this, are you ready to study?

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.