Ask any CEO or Vice President about his or her management team and you are likely to hear about some managers who can’t seem to make decisions soon enough; who can’t give constructive feedback; who are reluctant to develop subordinates or to make employee changes when necessary. Basically, managers who aren’t really managing or are reluctant in their role as a manager.
Now, the truth is that most employees are promoted into managerial roles for doing a good job in their area of expertise, and not because of their ability to handle people and resources. Although promotions like these are great for the individual because it’s a form of reward for them, having a manager who is reluctant or uncomfortable about being in charge could lead to a lot of problems for his or her team and the organization as well.
Newly promoted managers need to learn how to think, feel and behave as managers, rather than as individual contributors or “doers.” They need to stop thinking of the “people” and “business” aspects of their job as two unrelated challenges. Their job is to get the people to work towards delivering business results which requires the ability to assert themselves, show initiative and influence others.
Unfortunately, reluctant managers tend to fall short in these areas. In most cases, the reluctance is not because the manager doesn’t know what needs to be done. It’s because they are simply afraid of the responsibility of supervising people or believe that they are not going to be good at it.
Especially, high achievers in technical areas may tend to be competitive and loners and may not have well developed interpersonal skills. Reluctant managers often ignore problems because it’s easier to just not deal with unpleasant situations. Subconsciously they hope the problem will simply go away if they ignore it.
Rather than helping people grow professionally by providing them with the training and tools they need to improve, reluctant managers tend to ignore low achievers and may even step in to do the job themselves. When this happens, everyone loses out because it impacts the morale and capabilities of the team and also its performance.
Sometimes the role as boss can be twice as hard for managers who have a strong need to be liked by everyone. Such managers are unable to assert themselves and hence not able to generate results.
So, what can you do as the supervisor or superior of a reluctant manager? How can you help them become empowered leaders? You could sit them down and explain that it is their job to make the team perform and that they need to be able to take hard decisions and influence people. But then, in most cases, they already know what they need to do. The problem tends to be at a deeper level.
As humans, we tend to limit what is possible by what we believe is true. Our perception becomes our reality and we actually look for evidence which supports this view and ignore the rest. It takes as little as one or two unfortunate experiences and a perspective is formed – which we then generalize across all facets of our lives. For example someone who froze on stage as a child might carry the belief that they can never be good at public speaking.
Applying this to the current topic, your reluctant manager may have had some experiences that made him or her believe that they will not be a good leader or that they are not a good leader. So even if you believe that they are capable of leading the team, and they take on the role, somewhere deep down they might be coming up against a wall – basically telling themselves subconsciously that this won’t work, and might even be sabotaging their own performance to conform to their belief that they can’t be a good leader.
Another possibility could be that they believe that good leaders need to behave in a certain manner – for example be loud, pushy, demanding, and extrovert and so on. This could be based on what they have been exposed to while growing up or at work. So, they may then try to fit into that mould and behave like that, even if that is not their natural personality type. This is bound to lead to an internal tussle or incongruence and eventually convince them that they are not good enough to be a leader or that they are better off being an individual contributor.
So, what you need to really do is to understand what is making them reluctant about their managerial role. What’s standing in their way to assert themselves and get work done? What are their beliefs about their own leadership capabilities? Once you understand this about them, you can help them change their perspective by opening their minds to new possibilities and ways of looking at themselves, their role and their impact.
Another way in which you can empower them is by understanding that managers are often reluctant to make a decision for fear of making a mistake. So see how you react when things go wrong. Do you back the manager and tell them to focus on how to resolve the problem or do you spend time analyzing their role in things going wrong? Your trust in them will empower them.
And finally, you can help reluctant managers by developing their capabilities through training and coaching. A good training program can change the way individuals think. A coaching program can help them overcome their internal barriers and develop their thinking capabilities. After exploring all these possibilities, if the manager is still reluctant, accept that they may fit better in another role. It is not worth losing a good employee if you can find a more suitable way to reward a job well done.