Why Aren’t There More Good Managers?
There are five main reasons why there aren’t more good managers:
1. Most occupations require some demonstrated competence, but management doesn’t. Many occupations require certification or a license, where you have to pass a test to demonstrate a certain level of knowledge and proficiency. To become a plumber or an electrician, for example, you’ve got to be licensed. Frankly, even a dog has to be licensed. What do you need to become a manager? Nothing. Nothing at all. You just have to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe you’re the last one standing. Everyone else has quit and you’ve hung around the longest. It’s the ‘‘Poof! You’re a manager’’ process. Imagine if there were a ‘‘Poof! You’re a heart surgeon’’ process. I don’t think things would work out very well that way.
2. Most managers are thrown into the fray without training or preparation. They’re given little guidance and direction. We invest little and we get little in return. That’s the way it happened to me. It was very typical. I can still remember the day of the week and the time of day. We were finishing up our employee coffee break. It was just a normal daily coffee break. We spent the whole time complaining about management. They were fools, bureaucrats, out of touch, and cared only about themselves. The usual story. I got called into a vice president’s office at 10:15 a. m. My first thought was, ‘‘I must be in trouble. What have I done wrong?’’ The vice president told me that starting Monday, I’d be a manager. I was floored. I said, ‘‘Why me?’’ I felt I was being punished. He talked to me about how much the organization needed me. It’s not the kind of thing you can turn down. I remember asking him, ‘‘What am I supposed to do?’’ He gave me the classic response: ‘‘You’ll figure it out.’’ Well, some people do figure it out. A lot of people, unfortunately, never do.
3. Everyone is, to some extent, a reflection of who they’ve modeled themselves after. Parents, teachers, and older siblings have an obvious impact on children. Those managers we’ve worked for have had an impact on us. Some of us say, ‘‘I’ll have to remember how it feels to be treated this way. I’ll be sure not to do that when I become a manager.’’ But most say, ‘‘This is what managers are supposed to do, I guess. I’m required to be like the person I work for. That must be what the company wants.’’ So, a generation of mediocre or poor managers gives rise to a new generation of mediocre or poor managers.
The challenge in such circumstances is to stop the cycle and break the ‘‘stagnant quo.’’ Be different. Be better. Be wary, though. You may get in trouble. There will be plenty of people around with the dread disease known as ‘‘hardening of the attitudes.’’ I don’t think you can be any good if you’re afraid to get in trouble or be called crazy for wanting to change things. As Nobel prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman said, ‘‘Here’s to the crazy ones. . . . You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. . . . Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.’’
4. Even after they become managers, people continue to be rewarded for being good individual contributors. Knowing what people are rewarded for always helps you understand the way they behave. Ever read a manager’s performance review? It’s usually hard to find a single line about management performance. It’s typically about the projects the managers worked on and the problems they’ve solved. It’s about how hard they personally have worked. They’re like super employees. If that’s how we’re going to continue to reward managers, as individual contributors, that’s what they’re going to continue to focus on.
5. Truthfully, the job is hard. Most people can become programmers or accountants with some education and some work. Management requires skill that a lot of people don’t have or aren’t willing to work at. The higher you go up the pyramid, the more difficult the jobs are. That’s why the pyramid gets narrower and narrower at the top. The pyramid looks at how many people can do jobs at the different levels. It helps explain why people who make it to the top are paid perhaps 200 times what people at the bottom make. If you’re good enough to make it to the top, you should be paid 200 times what people at the bottom are paid. People at the top of every profession earn substantially more than people at the bottom. They can do things that very few people can do. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it always will be. In a free market economy, people make what they are worth. If that weren’t true, the market would correct it.