The success of the comic strip “Dilbert” and the television series “The Office” is testament to an enduring problem in the workplace: bad management. Most of us have at some point had direct experience with narrow-minded, egocentric or micromanaging bosses, and we have seen how much damage they can cause in a working environment.
Why is there so much bad management out there? Over the last five years, I have asked many executives for their views on this question. A common answer is that the system is to blame — dealing with corporate bureaucracy pulls us away from our role as a manager of others, and it doesn’t reward us for being good at that job either. A second view is that there is a form of knowing-doing gap: Managers know they should be delegating more and giving credit to others, but they struggle to do so because their default behavioral setting is one of control and self-promotion.
There is some truth in both these answers. But I believe there is also a third reason for the paucity of high-quality management in many large organizations: Most managers have a remarkably narrow or ill-thought-out understanding of how their employees actually look at the world. Imagine what would happen if managers could get inside their employees’ minds and relate to their genuine motivations, needs and fears. My guess is that those managers would start doing a dramatically better job. Not only would they know how to motivate each individual employee, but they would also become less self-centered. Ultimately, your role as a manager is to enable your employees to do their best work. And it is pretty hard to do that if you believe the world revolves around you.
So, if you want engaged employees who feel inspired to do high-quality work, you need to make sure you and all the managers who work for you are doing their jobs well. This sounds obvious, but it isn’t that easy to assess the quality of your managers, as there are so many different facets to the job. And many executives actually deliver results despite their poor people-management skills — something that works fine in the short term but is damaging in the longer term.