Why Do Managers Fail…And Are They Really To Blame?
You have seen the quote on Linked In many times: “People leave managers, not companies”. Is this true? Probably.
Most of us at some stage in our lives have had someone we would consider a poor manager or an ineffective manager, or simply a ‘not very nice manager’. For some, this has caused us to leave a job, even when we liked the company and were satisfied with the salary and benefits.
In his book ‘First Break All The Rules’ (https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Break-Rules-Marcus-Buckingham), Jamie Buckingham discusses how often people leave managers, not companies. He gives some statistics and examples, and then says: “An employee may join Disney or GE or Time Warner because she is lured by their generous benefits package and their reputation valuing employees. But it is her relationship with her immediate manager that will determine how long she stays and how productive she is while she is there….from the employee’s perspective, managers trump companies…[and]…for employees, there are only managers: great ones, poor ones, and many in between.”
If many effective and motivated employees are leaving their bosses, not companies, then this leads to high employee turnover, which will negatively affect a business’s performance and results. It is also a sign that the manager lacks the necessary leadership competencies, amongst others, to be successful and can therefore be a reason why managers fail (a manager fails in their position when they are given adequate manpower and resources to achieve their targets (assuming these are achievable), but then fails to achieve them.) But what are the main reasons for management failure?
Reasons Why Managers Fail
These are the primary reasons why managers fail.
- Lack Of Management Training.
Quite simply, this is the number one reason. I have been involved in training several thousand managers over the last eight years, many of whom have said to me that it was the first management training course they had taken, despite having been managers for many years.
Given the responsibility managers have for overseeing and getting results in their various departments, it is extraordinary that many companies and organisations still persist in not training their managers and therefore giving them the skills and competencies they need to do the job.
There are, of course, a number of businesses and organisations that have management training programmes, and who have seen the necessity of it, particularly the larger ones. A food production company I delivered management training courses for in Saudi Arabia had regular programmes for supervisors and managers, as well as other training programmes for employees. Given that it had quite a high employee turnover rate, I always felt its success and expansion came down to its commitment to providing a lot of training. There were several other large companies I worked with that did regular management training, as well as many more, I am sure.
However, hundreds if not thousands of others, especially mid to smaller ones, have little training and often fail to send their managers on any courses to prepare or improve them before of just after their promotion.
Several times, I have heard how a company has given out Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s book ‘The Art of War’ to their managers, expecting them to pick up ideas and tactics that will make them more effective at what they do.
Based on this, if we accept, as many suggest, that business is war (and given that if a business does not succeed it dies, it could well be true), what military in the world would allow their armies to be led by untrained officers? Or, what army would wait 3 years before given them training, or simply give the young officers a book or a manual and then send them off to lead a platoon of soldiers?
With this in mind, you can hardly blame managers for failing if they have never been trained in the knowledge, skills and competencies they need to be effective as managers. On a recent course I delivered, one manager, when giving feedback, lamented the fact that he had not received the training several years earlier as it would have helped him avoid mistakes he had made, and he now had to re-evaluate his practices as a manager.
Someone who is promoted without any formal training and development is reliant on what he or she has learned and understood from his or her previous managers, as well as their own knowledge, common sense and understanding. Which means there is always the potential that what they have learned or understood about management and leadership could be flawed from the very beginning.
Managers need to be trained. On numerous occasions, even veteran managers have fed back to me how much they have learned on courses I have delivered, or how pleased they are that the training has confirmed some of their good practices.
For a relatively low investment, companies and organisations can find their results improving, their employee turnover falling, their customer satisfaction results improving, if they would simply commit to sending their managers (as well as their employees) on training programmes. Yet many won’t, and will still wonder what they did wrong that led to failure (anyone who says that other companies will benefit if we train our employees, as I have heard some businesses say, are actually being so short-sighted that they deserve business failure. Can you imagine a professional sports team adopting the same approach?)
If you are a manager and your company has failed to invest in your training, joining this website, reading the articles, watching the videos and completing the exercises will help you improve your capabilities as a manager.
- Promoted For The Wrong Reasons
Not only do businesses and organisations fail to train, but they also promote managers for the wrong reasons, according to a lot of research that is now being done in this area. 
Often employees are promoted to a management position because of very good performance and a high success rate in their job role. If a business promotes someone because of this, despite the fact that it looks okay on the surface, they are doing so for the wrong reasons and risk ending up with a poor manager. Promotion should be based on whether the person has demonstrated management competencies and capacity, as well as the potential to do well.
Many companies and organisations still continue to promote a successful employee to a management position, thinking that somehow they will be successful when the management position often requires a very different skill-set.
Similarly, employees are also promoted to a management or supervisory position because of long service in order to reward them as there is this sense that the employee deserves it. It may even be that the employee has not sought the promotion. Either way, if the employee had not been noticed before, then it is doubtful that this long-serving employee has the competencies needed to be a manager.
Finally, you have managers promoted because they are related to, or they are friends, or they are from the same culture of someone in a senior position. Nepotism (as it is called in English, wasta in Arabic) is definitely a wrong reason to give a promotion. This is a form of politics, and politics in business is a cancer. It is true that, just like all human bodies have cancer cells, so all businesses have a measure of politics going on. But when politics reign and large numbers of people become promoted because of who they know rather than their knowledge, experience, competencies and potential, it is like a spreading cancer and will do to the organisation what unchecked cancer does to the body – it kills it.
I saw this happen within one organisation, a university. During its first seven and a half years, it had grown from a start-up, closely linked to an oil and gas company in the country it was situated. Under very successful leadership by several professors from an old and well-regarded American engineering university, it was the most popular place of education for students and faculty to join within the region.
Then the CEO of the oil and gas company decided to fire the senior manager in the university and appoint an old friend of his from where he had studied in the US. This professor had already joined the university as a head of department (despite having little experience as a head) several years previously. It quickly became clear that he had neither the skills, knowledge nor experience to lead an organisation at that level. His insecurity from having a ‘wasta’ promotion, led him to fire some of the best professors who had protested and opposed his appointment and then disagreed with him. He appointed certain cronies, completely changed the atmosphere in the college, causing faculty and students to leave. He also made his own ‘wasta’ promotions. At one point, he promoted himself, so that he held the first and second most senior position. With this, he also managed to triple his salary. He also ensured that nearly all the research money for oil and gas projects from the company were diverted to his US University where he still held tenure. After more than 3-4 four years in charge, with many complaints from students and faculty, he was fired. But the damage had been done, and the university never recovered. It now no longer exists, having been subsumed into a larger local university.
When politics is allowed to reign, it will destroy the business or organisation, because you end up with incompetent senior managers in charge.
One final aspect related to this is where a person is promoted because of their gender, their race, or their age. The bias that leads to this can be from any direction (for example, promoting someone because you prefer a person of that gender, age or culture. Or simply that, in order to make the business look politically correct, someone is promoted from that gender, age or culture.) If this happens, even for what could be considered good reasons, we still run the risk of promoting someone without the competencies to be a manager, and therefore run the risk of failure.
To make clear my position on this, a person should only be promoted to a management position when they have demonstrated they have the knowledge, competencies (at least some of them) and potential to be successful in that position, regardless of their gender, age or culture. Period.
- Promoted To A Point Of Incompetence
If managers are promoted without being trained, or promoted for the wrong reasons (either for reward or because of politics) you will definitely have many that are promoted to a point of incompetence (often referred to as ‘The Peter Principle’).
Typically, this happens a great deal at senior management level, where someone is promoted for the wrong reasons to a senior position that they are just not ready for. Mentoring courses in companies will often help prevent this, where a senior manager mentors a middle manager who is seen as a good prospect for a senior management position. The mentor then passes on advice, wisdom and understanding that help the mentee ‘grow’ into the job.
‘The Peter Principle’, based on the understanding that someone has been promoted because they have been good at their job (a wrong reason to promote), suggest that this leads to a double-problem for the company. As an example, there could be a situation where an engineer has worked his way to being a senior engineer and has received a number of increments. In order to keep him rewarded for being an excellent engineer and to continue increasing his salary, he is promoted to engineering manager. However, he then turns out to be a poor manager. As mentioned, this leads to a two-fold problem, because now the company has lost an excellent engineer, and at the same time they have gained an incompetent manager.
There are unfortunately too many examples that all of us have seen where a person has been promoted for the wrong reasons and it is, therefore, no wonder that they turn out to be incompetent for the position they have been given.
Which then leads to the fourth reason why managers fail.
- Lack Of Management Competencies
The first two reasons, lack of training and promoting for the wrong reasons, will often be the reasons behind the third and fourth reasons, promoted to the point of incompetence, and a lack of various management competencies.
There are numerous competencies for effective management, starting with leadership skills and the ability to set goals and influence people. Practising integrity and self-confidence are important. The ability to work with people, with this a high level of emotional intelligence is needed. Planning skills, the ability to communicate well, the ability to motivate people, delegating skills, coaching skills, problem-solving skills and so on. There are many competencies that a manager needs to be effective, which if they had received more training in, would very much enable them to be more effective, improve the performance of their team, and get better results.
- Not knowing A Manager’s Main Purpose.
One final reason is that managers are simply unaware of what their main purpose is. This is covered extensively on the website, both as a blog and as a section article, so I encourage you to read those.
These are my main reasons for management failure. As you can see, if the first two, and possibly the fifth (which should be made clear from the start by the line manager or company), lead to reasons three and four, then is it really the manager’s fault that they fail?
Not being trained and being promoted for the wrong reasons (and without the competencies) would suggest that the company itself (the senior managers and to some degree, HR ) are really to blame for when a manager fails.
It is true that many managers, despite not being trained and being promoted for the wrong reasons, still manage to do well and to be successful. However, the chances are that giving them training at the beginning would have helped to improve their competencies and they would have been more successful earlier on.
Companies and organisations, therefore, need to take greater care on who they promote and ensure that there is adequate training given to managers before, or just after, they have been promoted. Otherwise, the chances are they are setting their managers up for failure and all the negative consequences that come with that.
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 Buckingham, M. (1999). The Managerial Grid.
 Contact Core Training Solutions if you want to attend a management training course. If you are a business, do also get in touch so we can provide training courses to help improve the performance of your managers.
 Developed by Laurence J Peter in 1969, it is an observation that, in many organisational hierarchies, employees continue to be promoted until they reach a point of incompetence.