Why Aren’t We Making Better Managers?

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In this edition

Your business will not perform optimally unless your people are engaged and firing on all cylinders.

And your people won’t be engaged and firing on all cylinders if they have bad managers.

There is a straight line that runs from managers to people to performance. We have abundant data about this phenomenon. And yet we still, broadly speaking, are giving people managerial roles without any training whatsoever.

As you might imagine, I have some pretty strong feelings about that. In my operating roles over the past 15 odd years, I used to create my own training because the HR team either didn’t have a solution or I couldn’t ram it through the budget process. I attribute the success I have had during this time period primarily to the fact that we created great managers.

Which is why I’m launching the online training course I mentioned to you two days ago. This is only the first installment of what will be at least three leadership courses.

In this week’s newsletter, I’m sharing the thinking that led me to this place. The biggest takeaway this week, though, will be the different skillsets I think managers need to be successful.

As always, let me know what you think. Just reply to this email, and thanks for reading!

Why Aren't We Making Better Managers?


One of the recurring themes in my advisory work and writing on leadership is the crucial nature of the manager-employee relationship. Research on this relationship tells us:

  1. Around the world, only 1 in 4 employees are engaged at work, ranging from a maximum of 33% in the US/Canada to 14% in Europe.
  2. Nearly 70% of employee engagement can be explained by one’s manager, making it THE factor above all others that drive engagement and, therefore, retention.

What this means, indisputably, is that there are a lot of bad managers.

And yet, there shouldn’t be. HR professionals have known for decades that manager satisfaction is the key that unlocks employee engagement. Despite this, other recent research tells us that between half to 80% of all managers have never had formal training to be managers. It is a bizarre turn of phrase that the literature calls these people “accidental managers”. I thought accidents were supposed to be rare?

Over the past two years, the major consultancies have sounded the alarm about the high and mounting pressures managers face, and how ill-equipped they are to succeed, and how this problem will only be exacerbated in a hybrid working environment.

Why, then, do we continue to have this problem? Why aren’t we making better managers?

The Problems

I have thought long and hard about this. There are two key symptoms (should we call them “comorbidities”) that tell us this is happening.

1: Lack of measurement. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. Thus, if you want good managers, you need measures of satisfaction and subsequent accountability for performance. Employee feedback is the canary in the coal mine. Without it, you don’t see problems until team performance collapses. However you won’t put measurement systems in place unless you first believe these things are worth measuring. So this is a symptom, not a cause.

2: HR overwhelm. Historically, HR’s focus has been employee relations and personnel issues. If HR departments are already typically small, the learning and development resources will be even smaller. The L&D team may lack expertise or time. In-house programs tend to be administrative or company-specific in nature, like training to use a proprietary system, or how to fill out a performance review. This suggests the need to externally source training for managers. Except external programs typically cost money. Which you won’t commit, either for more staff or more programs unless you believe that manager training is a priority. So here again we are observing a symptom, not a cause.

You see where I’m going here. One way or another, the reason managers don’t get trained is that training is either deprioritized or completely neglected.

So we continue to largely promote people—the first promotion into management especially—based on functional competence. Except that the skills you need to be a good manager are different from being a good in one’s function. But once you’ve got that first promotion, you’re in for life. Like the mafia.

What we need managers to do

Whatever the reasons for the failure, the solution is ensuring basic competence in the job. In my career, I’ve observed that great managers have no fewer than eight core skillsets.

  • Goal Setting: How to set ambitious yet achievable goals that drive performance and are aligned with the company’s goals.
  • Hiring: How to bring on great performers who add to the team’s culture and reflect its shared values.
  • Delegation: How to effectively assign work by exchanging autonomy for visibility (and not micromanaging).
  • Performance Management: How to navigate difficult conversations and inspire excellence, and let go of people who—functionally or culturally—do not give 100% to the team.
  • Managing Up: How to influence higher-ups and manage expectations at all levels.
  • Understanding Your Leadership Style: How to recognize one’s strengths and weaknesses to create one’s own style.
  • Communication: How to foster open, direct, and respectful communication, which becomes the underlying current for each of the above skills.
  • Building a Great Culture: How to instill a supportive, high-performing team culture.

You can see immediately why the situation is so dire. Unless you (a) know you need to do this stuff and (b) have someone to show you how to do it, you’re going to struggle mightily. I know because it happened to me, and I’ve seen it in many other managers.

Better training

As I shared with you two days ago, I’m on a mission now to try to help people be better managers. The need is inescapable.

Hence the reason for the online course I’m creating.

The course (which launches on June 10th) is focused exclusively on people management, which, in my grand scheme of things, is a subset of what a leader needs. The eight skillsets will likely be the main sections of the training, but I will finalize that over the coming week or so. I’ll be sharing over 20 years of experience and distilling thousands of hours of my own personal learning in this process.

Here’s the link to the wait list where I will be sending out more info leading up to the launch:


I would be very grateful if you would do three things:

  1. Please reply to this email and let me know what you think I should cover. There is still time for me to make changes, and I want to make sure it is maximally relevant.
  2. Join the waitlist to see how the course develops. There’s no obligation to buy, and I won’t mention anything more about the course in our weekly newsletter until the launch as I want the newsletter to stand on its own.
  3. Please share this email with your network and encourage them to join the waitlist.

Again, this will be the first and last time I mention the course in our weekly newsletter. So if you are keen to follow, you must join the waitlist.

Thank you for your support!

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