Why Do Bad Managers Exist? : Causes and Solutions

In our professional journeys, we encounter both good and bad managers. With nearly 20 years of experience in the technology industry, serving as a Chief Analyst at companies like eBay, Amazon, and GameStop, Brandon Southern sought to answer the challenging question: Why do many managers fall into the category of being mediocre managers, rather than great leaders?

Southern points out three main reasons for this phenomenon.

1. Lack of Intention to Become Leaders:

   Most managers didn't set out to become leaders. They likely started as employees and found themselves in management because it was the logical next step in their career ladder or offered a higher salary. According to Southern, "It seems that few managers have a strong desire to become leaders. While I don't have quantifiable data, I've always felt that 90% of managers stumbled into management, 5% were power-hungry and wanted to control others, and 5% had a genuine desire to elevate others."

   This doesn't mean managers who found themselves in management by chance or as a career progression are necessarily bad managers. However, if leadership isn't something they're passionate about, the foundation is shaky even before the work begins.

2. Emphasis on Management over Leadership:

   Almost every manager has a job title that includes the word "manager." This is a stark contrast to what companies claim they want, which are leaders. People need leaders, and there needs to be management. By labeling someone as a manager instead of a leader, the implicit focus is on management – which often extends to managing tasks rather than leading people. This issue is so pervasive that it often goes unnoticed in our daily lives.

   Some managers will describe their role as team management, while a few will describe it as team leadership. When discussing the specifics of their jobs, almost all managers will talk about the projects and tasks they and their team are working on.

   Very few managers will describe their job details as "leading and elevating others to accomplish tasks." The primary focus is on what they do, rather than how they do it.

   The way you approach your role in a managerial capacity is through the efforts of others. However, the daily words managers commonly use often fail to give the proper attention to the actual duties of the position.

3. Pressure to Achieve Goals Can Lead to Sacrificing Employee Growth:

   As a manager, you're tasked with managing operations and expected to lead people. It's worth noting that I intentionally use these words.

   Many managers have excelled at managing operations and financial performance for business units, but were extremely poor leaders. However, due to the ease of measuring business results and the emphasis on profitability, companies are more willing to overlook leadership shortcomings compared to accepting poor business results.

   This translates to an overemphasis on achieving results, often at the expense of genuine leadership.

   Unfortunately, as a manager, there's constant pressure to achieve results and satisfy your superiors. This means that when critical projects, urgent tasks from executive managers, and risky situations arise, the focus tends to shift towards management rather than leadership.

   In many instances, managers take on these crucial tasks themselves because there's a greater guarantee that the task will be executed correctly. However, while doing so may reduce errors and speed up processes, it deprives other team members of growth opportunities.

   This puts managers in a difficult position when dealing with critical, high-risk tasks, which often create the necessary circumstances for others to grow in their careers.

To cultivate great leaders, we need to change how we think about management. This involves altering the words we use to describe the duties of this role and the expectations from it. We also need to reconsider the balance between risks and results, at the expense of lost opportunities for team members.

To develop great leaders, we must ensure that team members understand the true meaning of leadership... and we need to create an environment that fosters the development of others and generates opportunities.