The worst managers can make the best leaders. And a great leader can become the very best kind of boss. How can this be true? I’ll explain.To begin with, what is a manager? In the prevailing sense they are individuals whose job is to accomplish work through others. Managers instruct, supervise, motivate, evaluate, and mete out rewards and punishment. They manage from behind by cracking the whip, micromanaging, and shouting orders in the same way cattlemen or shepherds manage by fear, intimidation and authority.
Problem one in this scenario is the way people come to be managers in the first place. Most typically, managers are employees who are promoted because of their expertise in a certain subject matter. They became managers by becoming highly proficient in their original jobs.
As managers, they are generally untrained and they have no mentors or positive role models to guide them in this much different path. Even when training is provided, it is generally schooling on the various facets of measuring work production and controlling employee behaviors. (I refer to this as “managing from behind.”) Little or nothing is taught on the character traits and values a company stands for, and would seemingly want its managers—the face of the company for every employee within it—to represent and exude.
So what do these individuals do? They become terrible managers.
They take credit for others’ ideas and projects.
They focus effort on rules for the many that are meant to police and control the behavior of a few.
They make decisions that support their near term compensation at the expense of the organization’s long term goals.
They hire and fire the wrong people—for the wrong reasons.
They rule by force, fear, intimidation and title
We could write many articles—even books–on bad managerial behavior. In general, however, the result is the work environment we all know too well: Fear, mistrust, worries over job security, and feelings of unfairness and ill will. And, of course, a terrible company culture.
These are the reasons I’ve worked to eliminate traditional managers altogether, as many of you know and as I’ve written about here and here.
So what should businesses do?
In our own company, we extend the principles of agile development into agile leadership (management is not a word in the Fishbowl vernacular.) We create paired leadership teams who guide and empower employees to do their jobs in the way they see fit. Our “captains” work side by side with their teams, rather than directing and controlling them in a traditional sense. They lead from the front and set the pace. They show by example and their people follow.
Captains are terrible managers, but they are incredible leaders. Their teams produce great results. Here are a few of the traits that can turn one of these “terrible managers” into an incredible boss:
Trust your employees, and also trust in your employees to get their jobs done. No micromanaging.
Help others get ahead when deserved, even at your own expense. What a novel idea. Don’t worry about climbing the corporate ladder. If your people and teams are successful, you’ll rise, too.
Give credit where it is due – Don’t take unfair credit for others’ work, however enticing the idea might be. It will not pay off. Here again—when you allow others to rise freely, you rise, too.
Set the strategy, but allow others to choose their own tactics. It’s amazing how empowering and motivating it can be when individuals get to manage the details of how the strategic goal is achieved. They will become unstoppable.
Hold fewer (and more focused) meetings – The fewer people at each meeting the better. Define exactly what you need to achieve in each meeting, and stick to an agenda when you arrive.
Celebrate failure and reward innovation – Encourage team members to try new things, even knowing they won’t always produce perfect results. They will make mistakes. These mistakes will be opportunities to learn and fail forward. This will result in employees who are brave and excited to work.
Be in the people business. Truly be in it. If your people know that you have their backs, you trust them, you care for their well being and their families (beyond the job—such as helping employees complete a college education, and including families in departmental parties and company events), you will naturally and gently lead your team to a positive outcome.
How do you find individuals with this “terrible manager” potential? Again, against prevailing wisdom, they may not be proficient (or even familiar) with the tasks of the team. But they will be highly capable and teachable in the values your organization stands for. The rest will follow.
An anthropology graduate could become a development lead. A licensed attorney could lead a world-class sales organization. A culinary student could become a standout leader in customer support. An electrician could become a top sales executive. A banker could become a top Account Manager. The list could go on and on.
What are the right core values? For Fishbowl, they are the 7 Non Negotiables: Belief, Loyalty, Trust, Commitment, Respect, Courage and Gratitude. For us, these traits have produced 60-plus percent growth for the past six years—award winning software—and a set of national and global corporate awards.
Even if—and especially if–you are a terrible traditional manager, what could this bigger vision of leadership be accomplishing for your company? Or for you?