Managers, nature or nurture?

Like everything in life, Managers come in many shapes and sizes, many styles, many levels of experience and many levels of adequacy, from the great to the bland to the downright awful.

The great leaders will have taken you from a starting point to somewhere better. They will have led you through lapses in judgment and confidence to a grounded safe place; through the unknown to the clearing; they have supported you when you were having personal difficulties, and more. You remember them fondly, like the schoolteacher who believed in you. They will have made you a better employee and developed your skills so that you can take your own next step.

The bland leaders…I can’t quite remember what they did or who they were. Sorry.

Then there are the downright awful leaders who have taken you from heady heights, where you were confident in your abilities, performing, enjoying your job (and therefore life was generally good), to a place where you question yourself, double and triple checking your work, highlighting your every mistake, and you dread going into work.

Why is there such a disparity between the great, the bland and the downright awful managers?

People are not born leaders and so it must be nurture winning (or losing) over nature.

And here lies the problem with managers. There is no one size fits all, and sadly that means there is no prescriptive solution for the downright awful managers and leaders.

So, why is there such a disparity?

A lot of managers will have worked their way through the ‘tools’: starting at a junior position, carrying out a good job at that level, being promoted to a management position and possibly not doing as well as had been hoped. How well were these individuals nurtured, developed and supported? What recognition have they received? Where was their great manager supporting and developing them?

One reason that there is such a disparity is that many haven’t been given the tools to manage their staff or situations. They do not have the tools to manage themselves, let alone recognise and manage underperformers within their team, communicate effectively, manage objectives and deadlines, and let’s not go near delegation! Good grief, how many times have you heard managers moan, “I am working all the hours”; “I have no time to do anything”; “I am missing deadlines” and so forth? If only they shared the workload with their team, everyone, including they themselves, would be happier.

Case study – the Delusional Manager

Many years ago I worked with a manager who I would categorise in the ‘delusional’ slot. What I (and many others) received from this manager was a short tempered communication style, unrealistic commands, lots of mood swings, flighty favouritism and ingratitude. This was in complete contrast to what he believed his reputation and brand to be. He believed that his communication was delivering a firm and yet fair approach, being level-headed and open. He claimed he didn’t want to make friends, he just wanted others’ respect.

There was a real disconnect between what he perceived to be true and what was actually true. He was disliked, disrespected and delusional.

What did this manager’s management style mean to his reputation? You do the maths! He felt and vocalised that he was a fair manager, but he had four direct reports with a team of 30 talking badly of him. What is one manager’s positive marketing reach versus 30 negative comments?

This is a real and long lasting lesson on delusional management! Do not take for granted that you are managing your reputation: ask for feedback.

So, feedback is an essential component to understand your own reputation and brand.

Feedback – what can you do to get it?

It is imperative that you source what others are saying about you. This is not a ‘go to the people I like and who like me in order to gain fantastic feedback’ exercise, neither is it a ‘go to the Moaning Minnie’s of this world’ exercise. It is about balance.

Aim to get a real feel for your reputation by asking various people. You cannot guess or assume with regards to your reputation and brand. It is important that you know what has been received and perceived by others in order for you to start putting out the correct communications. Ask clients, your manager, your team, and ensure that you ask those who will tell you both the good and the areas for improvement.

Consider these 3 questions when thinking about your own feedback;

  1. What questions would I want to ask to gain feedback on my reputation?
  2. Which five people would I ask?
  3. What will I do with the feedback?


Excerpt from The Step Up Mindset for New Managers by Margo Manning

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