13 Difficulties that Define a Manager’s Destiny
Management difficulties are like a tsunami that never ends. Every day I hear about it from managers at all levels. Successful managers learn to absorb the issues as nourishment, to build a high performance team. Others become swamped, panicked, and succumb to a never ending nightmare. Believe it or not, a manager’s destiny is a choice. Here are thirteen of the most persistent problems managers face and a few ideas on what to do. How managers engage their teams in these situations determines if she or he transforms into an authentic leader.
Managing in a Crisis
In tough times (like the coronavirus crisis) a leader needs to wear two hats. First, be compassionate and empathetic. These are skill of the heart. These means engaging their team positively. Second, at the same time leaders need a backbone of steel. For example, they have to make hard decisions and choices. While they care about the team, they don’t let emotions dictate what they do. During a crisis it is important to over communicate. Difficulties breed fear, worry and doubt in people. Be a good listener, ask for input and then take a course of action. Above of all, this balanced approach will help a leader maintain an authentic and sensitive approach that ensures the trust of the team.
Getting everything done
With budget cutbacks, Sue now manages one hundred people in her nursing department at a hospital in a major city. Her anxiety grows from the avalanche of multiple issues and responsibilities. With no help coming in the near future, her solution in a difficult situation has been to empower the team to make decisions and focus on the highest priority problems. Her dilemma showcases the troubles of many managers. They are overwhelmed with things to do and not enough time or people to get it all done effectively.
Reaching Team Goals
Managers are paid to move the needle and achieve department goals. I have been amazed at how many struggle with executing company strategy or department initiatives. Many times it’s an ambiguity issue of what’s expected. At one company it took 2 1/2 hours with twenty-one managers to clarify the Senior VP’s stated and written goal. Equally problematic is the lack of training and coaching so the team is competent and committed enough to give their best while striving to achieve the goals.
The Difficulty of Giving negative feedback
I facilitated a meeting in my office with fifteen senior human resource executives. We talked about many issues including how managers handle performance issues. The group unanimously agreed that most leaders put off negative feedback. The typical scenario plays out this way:
The manager sets up a meeting with HR and asks for help to fire an employee. The HR rep asks the manager what intervention has been done with the employee. Most of the time the managers say, “Nothing, yet.”
Through training, study, and mentoring, almost any manager can learn how to give negative (and positive) feedback seamlessly in their daily communication or engagement with employees. Proactive managers learn to do this to inspire their teams. Reactive managers just push to get the tasks done. See this post for ideas, How to Give Feedback When You Are the Leader.
Dealing with Poor Performance
Giving negative feedback is related to this. All employees do some things right and others wrong. No one is perfect. Leadership is a high contact sport. In this high tech age, managers have to engage their team’s one on one.
This requires coaching effectively and regularly to reinforce good performance and redirect poorer performance. If done correctly it becomes a matter of course, not a big “to do” or a nightmare at performance review time. Few managers want to do this and say they don’t have time. I say they don’t have time not to do it or all of the problems cited here become mountains, not molehills. See this post for ideas, 3 Ways to Handle Poor Performance.
Handling team conflict
Interpersonal conflict on a team in the workplace is inevitable. Most people aren’t bad or screw offs; they just have behavior problems at times.
Handling conflict constructively is an emotional intelligence skill. It involves communicating directly, honestly and with empathy. Consequently, top managers invite conflict but learn how to facilitate it so improvement is reached. Numerous manages avoid conflict so it festers and becomes a poison.
Firing an employee
Terminations cause headaches for far too many managers. When an employee fails, the manager fails. With a litigious society all managers need to learn to fire appropriately. Communicate with your boss and HR to ensure it is done right. See my post, The Hardest Thing a Leader will Do, for a few ideas.
Communicating with the boss
My research shows 80% of performance issues are due to the lack of clarifying expectations and goals. Unfortunately, too many managers waaaaaaaait. They wait for the boss, and this lack of interaction produces misunderstanding, insecurity and doubt in employees and leaders.
All managers have to communicate upward today. With the speed of change, data driven decisions, and business intelligence, they have to be proactive. Failing that, they get into trouble for not knowing, even if it wasn’t their fault.
Losing key employees
Employee turnover causes lower morale and employee productivity. Losing key people accelerates this. Managers often neglect their top people and continually add to their workloads. Instead, they need to over-communicate, be good listeners, coach regularly, clear out obstacles and give them recognition.
Solving co-worker issues
Recently I was in the Midwest on a coaching assignment. The District Manager couldn’t meet up with me the second day because of problems at another location. There were emergency issues between office operations and merchandising. This happened at a busy time and really should never have occurred. Yet, concerns like this happen every day for most managers, and it wears them out.
Planning, coaching and preparation can help minimize these incidents. More importantly, is how these situations are handled. Managers need to learn in these type problems to create a solution with the team, execute it while simultaneously building up the team, and improve their capability for the next difficulty. It isn’t easy but it is doable over time.
Creating buy-in to a team plan
Research demonstrates that only 10% of executives are confident in their team’s ability to implement their plans. A key to victory is capturing the hearts and minds of the team to execute the plan successfully. Most managers just want to get on with it and act. While that is admirable, they must to do three things first or generate unnecessary resistance and messy mistakes:
- Ask the team for their ideas, input and concerns when creating a plan
- Prepare the team to execute these effectively
- Determine how to measure, adjust and reinforce that plan in process
On a client phone conference a HR executive proudly said, “We have 100 new initiatives.” Think about it, that’s a ridiculous number. Success requires focus. This is why Kotter, the leading guru on change, says that over 70% of change plans fail. Leaders don’t do what is mentioned in the previous point, and they fail to communicate. What happens instead?
- Inconsistent execution.
- Resistance to change.
- Lack of understanding related to the plan.
- Sabotage to the plan.
- Alternative variations of the plan being followed.
- Chaos and conflict in many cases.
Furthermore, this ends up in low morale, sagging productivity, poorer customer service and rising costs. See this eBook for ideas, Changing Change Management.
The Difficulty of Grappling with Personal Stress
Far too many managers are burned out or stressed out. The avalanche of issues continues every day with little upper management support. No wonder reports say 50-70% of managers fail today. Managers come in early, stay late and take work home. Unfortunately, there is little real work/life balance. Maybe the biggest problem facing managers is self care. so they can do their best work, stay sane and healthy.
Most managers need alone time at work and at home. They need more training. They need support that a competent coach would give them. Unfortunately, the demands of most jobs seldom allow time for this or provide these opportunities. I say to all managers: seek out the help if your organization provides it. If not, get it from your network. See these stress management tips from the Mayo Clinic.
Pulling It All Together
Bottom-line, managers today are under supported, over tasked and failing. It is killing employee engagement, teamwork, customer service and productivity. This isn’t going to change any time soon. Successful managers learn to operate effectively in spite of the deluge of problems. It does take a commitment to become better at leading people, managing priorities, coaching and problem-solving. This means ongoing preparation with time dedicated specifically to this, like an athlete training for the Olympics. Quick meetings in a hallway or reading an article while in the washroom are not enough.
How a manager prepares for the leadership difficulties that surround the job is ultimately more important in determining destiny than the issues themselves. Businessman Arnold Glasow said, “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” In summary, Will Rogers declared, “In time of crisis people want to know that you care, more than they care what you know.”
Also, for an in-depth complimentary success assessment and action plan, see this: Success Practices.
Finally, do you want to accelerate your management career? Check out Rick’s Superstar Leadership book.