Train your managers to manage
Updated: Mar 19
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
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.” (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/peter-
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