Why Managing People Should Be a Privilege, Not a Promotion.
In any traditional hierarchical organisation, a manager’s responsibility is not simply to ensure their employees achieve their performance-based objectives, but to also play a role in supporting their subordinates' emotional wellbeing. It’s therefore crucial for businesses to comprehend that not every competent employee is fit or has the desire to obtain a leadership position when promoted. So, as an employer, what do you do when you have identified an employee’s potential, feel they are ready for a promotion, but they in turn, are not ready to manage people?
Determine their career goals
When I was a new-starter, I was often asked by my managers what my 5-year career plan looked like. Having thought about my expectations from the end in mind, I would instantly respond with ‘I'd like to lead a team of people to achieve a common goal’. The work itself was secondary to me, as I personally achieved the most fulfilment out of inter-team collaboration vs siloed output. Personally, fulfilment needed to be found in every aspect of life, so a leadership role was a crucial milestone to reach in the journey to achieving that goal. Additionally, in traditional businesses, this response almost always placed me in a favourable light with my superiors, most likely because it was a socially expected career goal. The challenge for managers comes when employees have no burning desire to lead a team, but still seek fulfilling career advancement. Therefore, both parties need to come to a mutually agreed upon solution.
Find A New Alternative
A highly competent employee who is open with their desire to never lead a team may be seen as a problem or disrupter to the promotional process, worst still, they often conceal this preference to avoid being passed over for future opportunities for career advancement. This is because in the lead up to the promotion, senior leaders have not disclosed a viable alternative.
One solution to consider is creating a Subject Matter Expert (SME) role vs. a Managerial one. If your employee is fulfilled, motivated and highly effective in their current role with no desire to manage, ensure they are responsible for overseeing projects rather than people. Managing people requires highly developed self-awareness and emotional intelligence as a required skill set. Just like other traditional roles, you wouldn’t promote someone who is lacking the skills to perform their responsibilities effectively. This isn’t to discount the fact that SME employees cannot possess leadership skills, on the contrary, they lead their department as the go-to resource of knowledge and contribute their expertise to the wider team to help achieve their combined goals for the organisation.
Identify and Develop Leadership Skills
You may have worked with a line manager in the past who considered their role as an extension of their identity, and conditionally, as an element of their self-worth. Personally, I find this is the biggest distinguishable difference between managers and leaders. According to Healthy Business Builder, some of the other key differences include:
- Leaders seek vision, managers focus on objectives
- Leaders initiate change, managers maintain stability
- Leaders take risk, managers minimise risk
- Leaders think long-term, managers work on short-term
- Leaders rest on learning, managers depend on existing skills
- Leaders build relationships, managers establish processes and systems
- Leaders have followers, managers have subordinates
As mentioned above, not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers. Subject Matter Experts can live and breathe the fundamental principles that encompasses a great leader, without the drive to manage subordinates. It all comes down to the personal development of the individual, focusing on innate principles of honesty, empathy, integrity and high levels of self-awareness. Developing (and practicing) these principles daily, lead to more effective living, as mentioned in Stephen R Covey’s famous book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. He defines three stages of development as Dependance, Independence and Interdependence:
- Dependance- needing others to get what you want and need.
- Independence- relying on yourself to get what you want and need.
- Interdependence- relying upon the cooperation with others to get what you want and, crucially, help them to get what they want.
Whether it’s due to a perceived lack of resources, time or urgency, the development of leadership training programs often falls on HR departments. However, creating a strategy utilising these 3 stages of development as a roadmap for coaching effective leaders could be a great place to start. It’s important to note that however effective specific processes may be, they cannot maintain longevity of results without ensuring senior leaders are prioritising the programs with their ongoing attention, as a priority.
Understand the Impacts of Poor Management
- Emotional Wellbeing
Fisher (2010) stated that employee wellbeing is a combination of job satisfaction, engagement and affective organisational commitment. Affective commitment refers to the “affective or emotional attachment to the organisation, such that a strongly committed employee identifies with, is involved in, and enjoys being a member of the organisation”. The ‘enjoyment’ and ‘emotional’ component of affective commitment largely comes down to the social aspect of the workplace and the strengthening of relationships between colleagues, including direct reports. Like all successful and effective human connections in life, the relationship between worker and manager needs to have a foundation built on trust.
Appelbaum, Bailey, Berg, and Kalleberg (2000) demonstrated that the effects of high-performance work systems on emotional wellbeing, was the resulting degree of trust between workers and their managers. Similarly, Baptiste (2008) found that strong support by managers operating within a habitat of collaborative trust, organically resulted in improved relationships between employees and managers, which in turn led to high levels of emotional wellbeing.
As you may have experienced first hand, the costs associated with poor management are quite simple to identify. They usually include increased use of sick and annual leave, decreased productivity and high levels of employee turnover. However, there are insidious costs that may be more difficult to quantify. According to a study by Beyond Blue titled the "State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia '', the data found that "one in five Australians have taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy".
A solution to this problem, as per mentioned, is to develop effective leadership training programs to equip managers-to-be with fundamental interdependent skills to be successful in their new role. However, this training should absolutely be combined with a business-wide mental health program to support all employees who may be suffering under an ineffective manager. Wellbeing is not usually the first area of focus when assessing the need for financial investment. However, research has shown that for every dollar a business spends on cultivating a mentally healthy workplace can, on average, result in a positive Return On Investment (Pricewaterhouse Coopers).
The responsibility of managers is paramount. Not only can they make or break a business’s culture, but cause financial repercussions and most importantly, disrupt another human’s emotional wellbeing. However, identifying the next generation of effective leaders within your business is truly exciting. Surprisingly, you may find these amazing leaders have no desire to be managers, but will continue to drive teams to achieve things you never thought possible.