Managers don’t seem so big on self-improvement

Managers Avoid Self-Development

Let’s start by taking a look at this graph; I got it from here:

Managers and Self-Improvement

This is from Joseph Folkman, who’s a pretty big deal in the whole “leadership development” space. It’s based on 360 assessments with 50,000 leaders; they were asked to rank 16 different business competencies, then those competencies were grouped by level.

Start by looking at “manager,” which is far left. Look at the top one — “drives for results,” which is a total buzzword-laden heap of garbage, but basically means chases deliverables. “Inspires performance” is the same way: in an ideal world, that has a lot of value and meaning. Most people probably actually say “inspires performance” and really mean “drive up revenue from my team.” That’s the way of the world.

Now look at the bottom five for managers — champions change, innovation, establishes stretch goals, networks, and practices self-development.

OK, now pause.

Here’s the thing: when you rank any 16 competencies, some five need to be at the bottom. That’s life. But those five are near the bottom for most categories here — peer, direct report, and even self (although that’s a bit different). So, broadly-speaking, people don’t seem to value those ideas very highly.

A few thoughts:

Innovation is low: I’d assume that comes from managers thinking they’re super busy and needing to focus more on daily deliverables — “drives for results!” — then having the ability to innovate. Had a meeting a few years ago with a kid — total hipster — where I was working who said he wanted to have a “Hack-A-Thon” and generate amazing ideas and float them up the chain. He told his manager, who said something like “Bro, we’ve got enough shit coming back down the chain.” I think a lot of people feel that way.

Establishes stretch goals, eh? I’m actually OK with this being low, because the notion of “stretch assignments” is mostly garbage.

Networks: This is a bit dangerous. If you think “networking” has become less relevant just because you’re a manager (“I’m now successful!”), that’s a faux pas. Networking exposes you to different ideas and perspectives and keeps your roster of people you can tap for feedback fresh. In short: it allows you to become more comfortable with ideas opposite from your own. That’s tremendously important.

Self-Development: I don’t really know what to say here. I think this comes from the idea that “leadership is a destination,” so that once we “become leaders,” we don’t need to keep working on ourselves. There are documented studies that most managers don’t really understand motivation. There’s something you could work on, or self-develop. Honestly, I’ve worked at a ton of places — a ton — where managers couldn’t explain the revenue stream to their employees. Do you ever stop and realize how embarrassing that is? We’re promoting people to jobs and those people don’t even understand how the company makes money, which is inherently the point of the company. What in ever-loving hell?

I think most of this goes back to the ol’ “Temple of Busy” idea. If you look at the top terms on the chart, it’s all buzzword-driven stuff tied to goals, targets, and deliverables. That’s what keeps you busy (and apparently what keeps work “virtuous”). The stuff at the bottom is all tied to things that people feel they don’t have time for, because the other stuff is making them so busy.

A lot of this comes simply from how ass-backwards we are about what “being a manager” is. It’s much more about coaching and working with people than it is about hitting targets and deliverables. If you start to realize that, then … you might chase some self-development once in a while, or some networking opportunities, as opposed to chasing your 1:45 meeting.

Ted Bauer