Why Managers Fail – 2

As noted in the last post, 40% of newly appointed managers and supervisors fail within the first 18 months. One of the major reasons is:

Being Unwilling or Unable to Make Tough Decisions

It’s normal to make your first decisions carefully and thoughtfully. After all, being newly promoted or hired means upper management will keep a close eye on you for awhile. That’s fine. And certainly your first or second personnel change will come under rather close scrutiny. The successful supervisor or manager makes personnel changes carefully, keeping at least the next higher level in the loop throughout the process.

In fact, most of the truly tough decisions you’ll face are people-problem decisions. Certain issues can doom a new supervisor or manager to failure, such as being unwilling to confront poor performers positively and help them improve or move on, or ignoring interpersonal disagreements and conflicts. And while the toughest decisions are often people issues, they can also involve equipment, systems, or process problems; new product/service decisions; or other issues posing risk to your team or the organization.

Making decisions and solving problems are part of the deal when you become a supervisor or manager. Just goes with the territory. We cover a wealth of information on navigating that territory in Skill 6 of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors and Managers – due out in June.

Why Managers Fail – 1

Managers fail for a number of reasons, and the failure rate is remakably high. Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership ( they do remarkable and important work at CCL – they’re the Gold Standard when it comes to Leadership Development) have studied the issue of managerial failure for years. Their term for it is “derailment” and it’s a good term for what happens.  About 40 percent of supervisors and managers fail within the first 18 months in their positions (defined as being fired, demoted, having their job reorganized, or otherwise having their responsibilities significantly changed). In addition, the vast majority of these new managers failed due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Not understanding their boss’s expectations
  • Being unwilling or unable to make tough decisions
  • Taking too much time to learn the new job
  • Failing to build partnerships & cooperative work relationships
  • Lacking internal political savvy
  • Maintaining an inappropriate work/personal life balance

We’ll take them one at a time over the course of several posts. Let’s start with the first one:

Not Understanding Their Boss’s Expectations

Expectations are always there. No matter who you are in the organization, you report to somebody else and that person is going to have expectations of you as a manager and supervisor. When those expectations are discussed out in the open, and mutually understood, the odds of your success go up considerably. When those expectations are unstated or unclear, it’s like stepping up to home plate with two strikes already against you.

Do you know what your boss expects from you? Have you discussed and mutually agreed to a shared vision of success for you and the organization? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, you may have a great opportunity for improvement.

Try this; first, make a list of what you think your boss’s expectations are. Then schedule a time to sit down with them and have a discussion about expectations. This should be a critical, top-priority item in your busy life; it could be the single most important meeting you’ll have this year.

Think about it.

The Countdown Begins

The next 24 hours will result in a finalized, locked-in content for The 8 Essential Skills. That let’s us establish the final page count, which let’s our great graphic designer, Carol Derks of the Derks Studio in Kalamazoo finish the layout for the cover spine. The basic design has been set for months, of course, but the spine text can’t be laid out until the page count is fixed. Who knew?

Next week will see several milestones, such as inserting the final list of testimonials, and a final format check before coverting the Word file into a PDF for transmittal to the printer. Once that file is tranmitted another countdown begins. Updates as we progress; watch this space.


Lessons Learned?

The past couple of posts have dealt with real cases from our files, as they used to say on old cop TV shows. You’ll see these cases from time to time, and they will always have some sort of lesson we learned from dealing with the situation. We change the names, alter the industry, rearrange the furniture, and otherwise make sure you don’t know who we are describing. But they are real enough.

I know I’ve learned a lot over the years from my mistakes; probably more than what I’ve learned from my successes.  Certainly I’ve learned more from the negative examples I’ve observed; the boss who is a total jerk, the coworker who seems to alienate people wherever they go, the manager who cannot (or will not) deal with the unmotived and results-challenged workers on their team. But what about the positive role models? We learn from them too.

What Lessons Learned would you have to share? It would be interesting to see what others have experienced and what was learned from the issue, incident, or situation. Post a comment, a question, or share a story from your own experience. What lessons have you learned?

Bill & the Company Goals

Bill was CEO of a 1,400-employee manufacturing company making precision components for the aircraft industry. His vice presidents seemed to be unclear about the overall goals and strategy of the company as the industry and marketplace were going through some rapid changes. When this confusion was first mentioned to Bill, he got visibly agitated and said, “I don’t get it. I told them the goals six months ago!” When he was asked if the goals were in writing, his response was, “No! If you write that stuff down your competition can find it out!”

There wasn’t much danger of the competition finding out because Bill’s own vice presidents didn’t even know! As a result no one else under them did either. The company continued to falter as employees tried to meet goals no one understood.

Lessons Learned

A verbal list of goals spoken in one meeting more than six months earlier wasn’t sufficient in this case. If Bill really wanted his vice presidents to “get it,” he should have provided the goals in writing, reviewed them with the team, and then discussed with each vice president how their particular area was going to accomplish those goals.

Don’s Derailment

Don was a manufacturing expert whose personal style of being “one of the guys” on the shop floor (including crude language and hard-drinking, back-slapping, dirty-joke-telling, in-your-face, confrontational communication) helped him turn around the operations of a large manufacturing company. An expert in lean manufacturing, he had been popular with the work force while obtaining excellent productivity from his employees.

Don moved from operations director to vice president and then to president over the course of two years. Then he began having problems with his board of directors. His demeanor hadn’t changed from his “one of the guys” persona, and he failed to understand that the board expected him to become more diplomatic, more sophisticated, and more “presidential” in his demeanor, communications, and personal style. He aggressively argued with the board one too many times and was fired after barely six months in the corner office.

The board members didn’t clarify their expectations prior to elevating Don to the presidency, and he didn’t ask for clarification. Too bad. His considerable talents were lost to the company and Don was unemployed for more than a year before finding a plant manager position at a much smaller company.

Lessons Learned

As you move to progressively more responsible positions your reporting relationships – and the expectations that go with them – are going to change. Don didn’t take the time to step back, clarify expectations, and decide how his approach to others needed to shift. The board was unhappy when he didn’t intuitively understand what they wanted. Do you think Don learned his lesson from what happened to him?