My search for a replacement evolved into an impromptu research project to discover what causes this fear of leading. Here are some of my thoughts and theories:
Fear of failure: In many cases upper management provides little guidance on the goals of the organization, or the goals are fuzzy at best. I see this as a lack of clarity and understanding on the part of upper management. An alternative might be that upper management is simply putting out goals to fill a square or for show, but they don’t really have their heart in supporting the goals necessarily. Either way, it’s a difficult positon for a manager to be in – on one hand they get little true support to meet the goals. On the other hand, once the goals is missed they get the blame.
“Management by objective works - if you know the objectives. Ninety percent of the time you don't.” – Peter Drucker.
Lack of training: Organizations in general fail to provide adequate leadership or management training in a timely manner. A Harvard Business Review article cited a lag in training for new managers (the time between when the managers started managing and the time they received formal training) of over a decade. The problem with that, as the article pointed out, is the managers develop bad habits for that time period and pass those on to the employees. This impacts productivity and retention. The lack of training may be caused by ill-prepared upper managers who don’t see the need, or a lack of vision by the organization.
Lack of upper management support: The role of management (read this as leading people and managing things) is a relatively new concept – less than 80 years old. The real interest in management by most corporations boomed no more than 50 years ago (and therefore the boom in the MBA programs). Many of today's senior leaders may not have bought into management as a disciple and still support the command and control approach as opposed to approaches better suited to today’s knowledge workers.
“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” – Peter Drucker.
So, what’s a new manager to do? I recommend finding a mentor or coach who understands what management (read leading and managing) is really all about. Pay particular attention to the leadership part since everything gets done by people - so you need to understand how proper motivation works. Also, realize that there is no “one size fits all” on management styles or approaches – it just doesn’t work that way.
If you don’t feel comfortable with a mentor, find someone who understands management to coach you. The coach can direct you to valuable resources (for self-study) and guide you through the many options available to get up to speed.
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