Among my many "academic" interests, I've recently added management and leadership to the roster. Throughout my involvement in education reform thus far, I've been searching for key levers that impact education policy and practice and I've discovered that like many social services and industries, the field of education is deeply impacted by many ineffective managers who are responsible for delivering and improving educational services.
I've met some amazing managers and some really crappy ones and what I'm learning, as other writers/researches have indicated, is that often times people don't leave jobs or organizations, they leave managers. The crappy managers I've met don't know how to communicate effectively; they don't see people and performance as separate (more to come on this issue); they don't own their role in mistakes that come up; they increase the aversion to risk for their teammates often restricting projects and people from reaching their fullest potential; they are inauthentic and rely heavily on the power they assume because of their title in driving their decisions rather than building genuine relationships which include investing others in a shared vision. Most importantly though, shitty managers give birth to future generations of shitty managers.
It's a direct challenge to the "do as I say not as I do" mentality that ineffective leaders espouse. Employees often learn how to manage and lead as a result of the management styles to which they've been exposed, adopting what they believe are the necessary behaviors and mindsets they've seen associated with the title "boss." Nothing breeds ineffectiveness on a team more than a bad manager and if we want to drastically revamp the way shitty managers continue to survive in our industries each year and interrupt the process by which they recruit new members to their tribe, we have to do a few things.
- Senior leaders (who are hopefully effective managers, but we know this isn't always true) as well as employees need to create very clear expectations for what effective managers do differently. We need to communicate the vital skills and mindsets that managers must have and ensure that managers internalize them.
- Call ineffective managers out. Easier said than done, I know. Some ineffective managers are ineffective because they don't reflect on their own performance and they don't like criticism or feedback, but if we don't tell them they suck, how are they supposed to know?
- Find the great ones! There are highly effective managers out there in our industries who go unrecognized. Their teams are happy and they are consistently finding ways to grow and cultivate other leaders. Their teams are highly productive and inspired and they primarily manager people who feel personally and professionally invested in staying around and seldom spend time searching for other opportunities.
- Stop making assumptions about what past experience actually means. We typically hire managers who have previous managerial experience. Why? Because the more experience they have as a manager the less time and effort we have to spend training them to be effective managers. This notion however is a major problem. First of all if every manager is required to have managerial experience, we are excluding a whole new generation of employees who we can actually train and cultivate, shaping their managerial practices to meet the needs of our companies and organizations. In addition, it is wrong for us to assume that prior managerial experience consistently translates into high levels of productivity and the excellence our people deserve. Our managers, regardless of whether or not they have zero or ten years of "managerial experience," need to be trained, supported, evaluated and grown. Understanding this responsibility rests with real leadership.
- In with the good, out with the bad! We need to critically evaluate how we hire managers. Are we focused on the right questions? Do we spend enough time thinking critically about how a potential manager will fit our teams and impact the professional and personal growth of the talent they'll manage? Are we consistently evaluating the performance of the team and helping our managers reflect on what they are doing really well and what are their key areas of growth? Are we listening to their team? Few people know and understand the performance of a manager better than the people they manage. And when we see patterns of behavior that will ultimately breed ineffectiveness, are we as leaders making the tough decisions about whether our current managers need to be in their roles? It isn't easy, but standing by as you watch a team flounder under ineffective management is probably worse.
Quite frankly, shitty managers breed ineffectiveness because leaders and employees allow them to. If we want to cut off the cycle, it's time to speak up and stop letting our talent walk out because we didn't have the guts to be honest with ourselves and those we expect to manage our people and services.