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The powerless manager.

Why do most managers add no value to their teams?

Nov 04, 2014

The following answers originally appeared in Quora for the question: Why do most managers add no value to their teams?

Answer by Michael O. Church, programmer

This answer may be more general than what you're looking for, but there are a few things that come to my mind about what makes management such a mess in most companies.

  1. The Power Paradox. The people who want power the most are the last people in the world that you want getting it. The fiercer the competition you set up for people to acquire power, the worse people you'll have doing it.
  2. Their bosses. Most managers have a (perhaps surprising) lack of power themselves and are forced to manage up, and treat their subordinates like crap because they're badly incentivized.
  3. Hard to measure. It's hard to measure the quality of people management, as opposed to more objective deliverables.
  4. Conflicts of interest. In most companies, people managers and project or group managers (or tech leads) are the same person. Related to (3), this is problematic. Managers often restrict mobility because they need to keep their projects or groups staffed and to hit deliverables, even though optimal people management might call for a transfer.
  5. Seems unnecessary. When people management is done extraordinarily well, managers almost become invisible. People are unaware of the things that are not breaking around them

Answer by Cliff Gilley, product manager

I would say that I generally agree with the premise - that there is a large percentage of managers who do not contribute to the success or growth of their teams. But I would say that, quite honestly, it's not always their fault. It's often the case that people are promoted into management because they demonstrate that they can perform the daily tasks that they're asked of efficiently and effectively - that somehow their performance as an individual contributor alone "qualifies" them to lead a team.

And this, quite simply, is not the case. There are certain skills and talents that one must have to be an effective leader and a good manager. And these aren't always innate abilities - but we in the business world just expect someone to be promoted and hit the ground running. It's rare, especially in small companies, for a manager to get any real training or education in how to manage a team - and when they then get promoted later, the person who steps into their shoes has no mentor to help them out; what you eventually wind up with is an entire organization that lacks any real understanding of or appreciation for actual leadership capabilities.

How this winds up displaying itself is in the very ineffectual behaviors that you apply there - when someone is in a position of authority, but doesn't know what to do, the last thing they want is to show that they're uncertain. So they overcompensate, sometimes massively. Anyone who asks a question is challenging their authority; every single status report has to be detailed down to the roots, so that they don't ever say "let me check on that" to the Exec team; they're unable to delegate authority and responsibility because they simply can't trust other people, who may be capable of doing their job better than they are.

And, once they're in that position of authority, the worst case is that they begin to think they deserve it - and that they deserve more authority and more power, not because they're good at their job anymore, but because they're "the manager" and that's how it works. Contrary to how things work in reality, it's just not good business to place people in positions of leadership without a history of leadership success or the training to help them be effective leaders.

Answer by Mike Dugas, statistician and entrepreneur

First, let's define what makes a manager a manager. A manager has one unique, defining characteristic- namely, the right to tell others, i.e. their subordinates, what to do. Put another way, managers have the right to make decisions regardless of what their subordinates want or say.

The only way for a manager to add value is to either be better at the decision making than their subordinates or be able to coach their subordinates by possessing and conveying needed knowledge to their subordinates.

But here's the reality of companies today. There are many layers of managers between the doer and the CEO. In order for this organizational structure to work, every layer must have a manager better than the people below her. But we know this can't possibly be true. A great example comes from so called "knowledge workers" who often are capable people who can make good decisions given access to the right information. Instinctively, or unconsciously, managers know this to be true, so oddly most engage in preventing access to the needed knowledge (they become gatekeepers) in order to justify the great wisdom they bring to decisions.

So we need to ask the question: do we need managers? Is, in fact, the organization structure that says to some “you can tell these people what to do and you have control over their compensation” make sense?

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