License to Manage


I had so many great responses to my post, “People don’t Leave Companies, They Leave Managers”, with one recurring theme: Most managers do not think this way.

It’s sad that in our business culture, people (not just managers) are not motivated to better themselves every time they succeed or fail in something. It’s sad that most people do not look at losing employees as a “failure”, but more as a “that’s the way it is”.

In 2008, 2.6 million people lost their jobs. That’s 65 TIMES the amount of people who die in car crashes each year (42,000)! We need a license to drive, yet there is no license or test one has to take to manage others. Granted, this is not an apples to apples comparison (death vs. losing a job), but in some cases it is. Suicide rates due to job loss triples when the unemployment rate soars over 7%. We must be in big trouble now…

Many people will read this and think to themselves, “This isn’t about me. My company had to let 26% of its workforce go, there was nothing I could do about it”. While this may be true in many cases based on today’s economy; it only proves my point. “Management” as a business construct is taken too lightly. If we look at the reasons WHY our economy has tanked, most would point out the mortgage industry, the banks, the market, etc. But it all goes back to good ol’ capitalism and human greed. Not a bad thing; but maybe not the only people we want managing our companies.

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  1. April 14, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    As a former supervisor of many college students and young professionals, I can say that there were definitely times that employees left me as a manager, and that I did view their loss as a personal failing. But there were others that were simply unmanageable, at least in those particular positions. This was particularly true of millennials, and in part due to some unrealistic expectations they had about work going into the relationship. Most of these times is was about not recognizing when communicating through formal reporting chains, getting permission to do projects or spend funds, or taking feedback were necessary. I think over the last few years I had in management, I came to find better ways to manage expectations,make communication clearer, and to treat help them understand the negotiable vs. the not-negotiable in “the way things work.” So I did fix myself, and I saw my feedback from employees improve, but many still left anyway, often citing personal reasons and expectations that just weren’t realistic for my type of institution, their experience level, or our department’s work environment. So there is a grain of truth in your comments, but as in all things, there are two sides of the story. Those who take their blinders off and take criticism, do something with feedback, and learn how to navigate the formal and informal networks and rules of their employers are the ones who stay and get promoted. The others move from job to job until they find a good fit for their expectations, or change their expectations to fit reality.

    So it’s no surprise to me that many managers cite other reasons. It’s not just pride and prejudice at work. If the leader can’t lead, the followers won’t follow. If the followers won’t follow, the organization won’t go anywhere…the employees will.

    • April 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      Great comment, Sean. As you noted, yes – there are people who will leave regardless of what you do because of personal reasons, but if we go back and look at how we build our businesses (not you specifically, business models in general), we can minimize that number. If you look at HR stats for how many people leave companies citing ‘personal reasons’, it’s only 7%; granted, these are probably the people we remember, but that’s not a very high number. Like you, I managed many college students, young professionals, and actually “mostly” the 40-50 yr old ‘crew’ and the individuals who I thought were unmanageable were the “baby boomer / Gen X” generation. My guess is that has something to do with our ages / where we fall as I’m ‘closer’ to the “Gen Y/Gen X” generation. It seems the ‘older’ population always thought that “their way was best”. What I found (contrary to what most call center managers will tell you) is that 99% of the time if I listened to them and incorporated their feedback in the process; not only were they “ok”, but the process made more sense. The best thing I’ve done / learned as a manager is two fold: 1) Don’t make decisions. Ask your teams of employees for their input first. 2) Check your ego at the door and show your team that you can empathize with them by “doing as they do”. Going back to item 1) any time I had a large decision to make; I usually did make it ahead of time, but I always had meetings to get feedback before rolling out anything new and (I believe good managers can do this) almost always ‘sold them’ on the decision before it was actually made; I led them to think they had come up with the decision and morale stayed hi. On item 2) I was very lucky because at 24 yrs old, I worked for someone who said, “the only way you will get respect from your team is if they know you can do their jobs, you have done their jobs, and you do it better than them”. So, while managing marketing teams – I typically take 1 day / week and set up SEM campaigns, concept creative, etc. With sales teams – I am on the phones or doing F2F sales once / week. While many managers will say, “I don’t have time for that”, I believe it’s imperative to the success of a business to know what is going on in the industry, with your customers, and on the ground floor.

      • April 16, 2010 at 11:30 am

        Hi Jamie,

        I meant to reply earlier, but didn’t get a chance. I am an Xer (41) and initially had some pretty bad reactions to millennials which I have been pretty much growing out of, primarily through interacting with them through social media.

        I think that the core of generational discord can really be summed up to conflicting perceptions of the value of experience vs. ideas. Older workers often reflect on the hard work they’ve done and what they’ve learned from mistakes. They offer advice based on their experience. Younger workers rely on their ideas more often and can perceive experience-based advice as criticism, when in many cases, it’s not meant that way by older workers.

        Social media in some ways helps each side see the value in the other’s frame of reference. Taking personalities out of the equation in most ways (b/c communication is shorter and to the point, with less “interference” from office environment, co-workers, etc., the participants can directly engage in sharing and debate. They engage in the conversation for the purpose of learning rather than some tangible reward (like a promotion they’ve been chasing, some project or professional development opportunity, etc.)

        The key to good teams is engagement, which requires both communication, respect, and the willingness to share ideas and debate them without participants feeling judged or excluded. So what you said about making people believe a decision was theirs is interesting, but I’d posit that great managers don’t do this as much as they engage in the conversation themselves. It takes an ability to risk and a willingness to trust. On all sides. When this happens, teams don’t just engage, they flow together, toward something greater, and they get results.

        Thanks for the reply. Good conversation so far. (And isn’t that the point?)

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