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Research Explains the Shocking Breakdown in Manager Effectiveness

June 17, 2019

A recent article by a major financial publication explored the shocking breakdown in manager effectiveness, revealing why only 18% of managers are effective leaders1. Read on to learn why Wilson Learning is in the slim minority of training companies who have gotten it right.

Human nature dictates our opposition to command and control. We instinctively resist anything that feels like manipulation. When a manager is seemingly focused on power and position, rather than on the team’s goals, employees feel they’re being used as stepping stones to promote the manager from one position to another. This is when effectiveness begins to unravel. As an anonymous author stated: “Being dragged anywhere, even to paradise, is painful.”

In an article published September 20181, Forbes Magazine presents compelling evidence to explain the ineffectiveness of an astounding 82% of leaders in the U.S., as reported by Gallup. The authors of the article spent two years studying 35,000 leaders; what they uncovered points, in part, to the lack of value-centered skills in managers being tapped to transform the organization and lead the teams expected to carry out the transformation.

To quote the article’s author: “Managers are mostly promoted . . . with little account for whether they possess the humanistic skills and qualities of good leadership. . . . The qualities that organizations actually select for and reward in most workplaces—ambition, perfectionism, competitiveness—are precisely the ones that are unlikely to produce leaders who are good for employees or for long-term organizational performance.”

Because of the directive to implement corporate strategy and drive change initiatives, newly promoted mid-level managers are particularly susceptible to this fallacy. They find themselves not only in a position of power but in a place of immense responsibility. Operating from the distorted belief that they solely are held accountable for results, these novice leaders often lapse into micromanaging in an attempt to choreograph even the smallest aspect of the outcome. Wilson Learning calls this style of leadership Heroic Management. While a take-charge, get-it-done person may seem appropriate for those in positions of power, they’re actually what Forbes refers to as tone-deaf bosses, often resulting in “toxic workplaces in which both leaders and their reports feel despondent, underappreciated, and mistreated.”

So how do we prevent our leaders from adopting this Heroic Management leadership style? Tom Roth, Chief Operating Officer of Wilson Learning Worldwide, explains: “When managers are taught to lead with purpose, they learn to extend responsibility and information to their direct reports, which in turn allows the team to share in the development of solutions. The need to be the superstar problem-solver is replaced by the desire to bring out the best in others because they understand that successful transformation can only happen with a team of empowered, motivated employees driving it.”

Drawing on their leadership development research that spans decades, Wilson Learning has identified five key conditions that need to be present for employees to be committed to optimum performance: challenging tasks, clear goals, autonomy, accountability, and involvement. Employees admire and want to follow those managers who are confident enough to create a supportive and nurturing atmosphere in which their direct reports have the freedom to perform at their best. Wilson Learning has helped several hundred leaders shift their mindsets from ego-driven to steeped in Essence—the character- and purpose-centered approach to leadership.

Sir Richard Branson sums it up like this: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

1The Real Crisis in Leadership,” Forbes Magazine, Sept. 9, 2018.