Article: Why Smart People Fail at Management


Why Smart People Fail at Management

Some individuals seemed destined for managerial success! 

Whether they are outgoing or reserved, college educated or educated through work experience and hard knocks, task focused or relationship focused, these individuals clearly have the intelligence and technical skills to succeed. In fact, everything about these individuals says that they're the right person right now for the situation and industry where they work. 

Clearly these Joe I-am-great or Mary I-am-great people are meant to be on the career fast track. 

Seeming destined for success and actually succeeding are not the same however!

Why is it that some of these Joe I-am-great or Mary I-am-great people eventually stumble along their managerial journeys? 

Why do these managers — despite their past success — eventually fail as they take on increasingly responsible roles in their organization?

When smart people fail at management, their lack of success is often due to some combination of the following three areas:

  • Inability to adapt to changing demands
  • Lack of understanding of their social impact on others
  • Lack of understanding of the needs of their employees, peers, and boss

Why do managers fail in these three areas? 

Often, they fail because they make the wrong assumption that what has worked well for them in the past will continue to work well for them in the future. These managers become a victim of their own success and their past success can become the biggest obstacle to their future success.

They take the saying if it ain't broke don't fix it as an absolute truth when in fact this saying is a situational truth. In the workplace, there are some instances when managers should absolutely fix what isn't broke.

Here's why this is true for any manager's success:

The reality of modern change is that organizations are constantly evolving. When organizational circumstances change, organizations often require managers to approach these changes with a new way of looking and doing things. 

Much of what made these managers successful will be needed in their new role. However, it's also true that their new roles will likely require much more out of them. 

Managers who are unable to make this evolution limit their career potential. In effect, their over-reliance on their past way of (1) interacting with others, (2) supervising their teams, and (3) negotiating and influencing their boss and peers becomes their biggest obstacle to their continuing success. 

As you take on more managerial responsibility in your changing organization, the demands on you will also change. You'll have different managerial duties that require using different skills. You may also have to work with different people. Keep in mind that what worked well for you before may be incomplete for you in your new role. 

As you navigate your managerial career, it's wise to take the advice given to financial investors: Past success is no guarantee of future success.


Additional Resource: 

Four Truths Leaders Should Know About Organizational Change 

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