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  • Writer's pictureMark Dickinson

Train your managers to manage

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

The word “manager” is a wonderful word that has a wide variety of interpretations depending upon

whom you ask, and upon which word precedes or succeeds it.

The problem lies not in the word, for that is simple to define:

Manager - Noun - class of people that manage

Manage - Verb - doing something to control and organize

The problem lies in the usage of the word. A General Manager indicates someone who manages a

whole organization, while a Branch Manager is someone who manages a specific place, an Area

Manager manages many varied operations and a Brand Manager manages a product, and so on.

So far, so good.

The problem with the word manager is that it does not have magical powers. The title ‘manager’ is

assigned to a position in an organization structure, and then a role is clearly defined, with the

responsibilities laid out accordingly. What then happens is a person is appointed to the position of

manager and they begin to do their work; because they have the title manager, it is expected that

they will then manage the business role to which they are appointed.

This is the point where things either grow or go wrong. Managers who are capable will begin to

manage using their learned skills and by applying their experience. In the case of a capable

manager, typically they will take direction from the company mission and vision and deliver results

accordingly, applying the values of the business to their activities. This is the ideal situation and

results in good management.

When a person is appointed to a position with the title manager, but has little experience, or a low

skill level in managing, then things may go horribly wrong, and it can be hard to detect for quite

some time.

Managers have authority over those that they manage and there will always be a degree of respect

for the title and a fear of the person with authority. No matter if that manager will do things wrong, it

may take quite some time to be discovered, and many managers are able to conceal their

inadequacies by using their authority and leveraging fear. The challenge is that the title does not

make the person capable. Here we invoke The Peter Principle.

“The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as

that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they

reach the levels of their respective incompetence.” (

principle.asp) In effect what this means is that many managers are totally incompetent; they have

been promoted because of past achievements at lower levels of an organization, but have now

reached a level where they are unfamiliar with the needs and responsibilities of their new position.

The title manager does not confer upon them the ability to do what their title suggests.

Incompetent managers will most certainly be good at some things, and probably have earned a

level of trust from their seniors that at some previous time determined them to be worthy of greater

responsibility. The challenge is that frequently managers have not been prepared for their new

responsibility and are left to get on with things in their own way. When problems occur within the

area of their work, instead of revealing their weakness in the issue at hand and seeking help, they

will resort to strategies that are detrimental to the organization. Frequently these will include:

Blame: Make others look responsible for the mistake

Cover up: Provide the first reason that comes to mind for why a problem has occured,

ensuring that it is not seen as their error that has caused a problem

Paralysis: Freeze, unsure of how to solve the problem they do nothing and hope that

the problem will just dissolve

Talk a lot: Make a lot of noise and draw attention away from the original problem

Distract: Explain how much work they have to do and switch the topic to other issues

(more important) that require their immediate attention

Justify: Take it personally and explain all the reasons why the problem happened

that have nothing to do with their performance

Hide: Become very busy doing something “important” so that there is no time to

actually get to the root cause of the problem and truly solve it.

Instant answers: Share the first idea that comes into their head as to why a problem has

occurred, but not an answer to actually solve the problem, but rather

explaining why a the problem happened in the first place.

Band Aids: Apply a very short term solution to solving the immediate issue

Each of these behaviors is an alarm bell that should ring loudly in seniors ears, telling them that the

problem is deeper than the issue that is being solved.

These warning signs are the all-important indicators that managers need to be trained on how to

manage. Here, however is where the plot thickens; their managers may be victims of The Peter

Principle too, and may not have the skills to recognize that the manager requires training, and they

too are rarely equipped with the skills to be able to train the manager in question. The

management issue becomes compounded.

Good quality management training takes time, it takes having vision and requires in-depth

knowledge of a wide variety of management skills.

Managers must be trained to be managers.

Qualifications are not an indication of ability in management. A degree or an MBA are not

guarantees of ability to manage either. These are academic qualifications; management is a

contact sport. It requires a knowledge of theory and practical experience combined together.

The ultimate solution is to create customized management training programs that are

comprehensive and ongoing. Constant development and investment in people are the keys to

great management. Some resist this process. It was famously said, “What if we train our managers

and they leave?” To which the reply was, “What if we don’t and they stay?” Some have taken a

stand that “We only employ good managers so we don’t need to train them, they already know how

to manage.” This is very short sighted. The best businesses recognize that their human capital is

the most valuable asset that their company has, and they act accordingly.

Saving money by not investing in management training is to perpetuate the constant distraction to

progress caused by the repetitive demands of fighting fires. While successfully solving operational

problems may give a false sense of achievement, it is unproductive and creates frustration and

results in mediocrity.

If you don’t train, you cannot blame! You must first train your managers to manage, and then hold

them accountable.

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