Managers today are under more pressure than ever. It keeps getting harder to manage people, retain the best talent, and develop new leaders. There are key areas of leadership with which many managers are struggling. Yet, the biggest thing getting in the way of most managers is their mindset. Common myths about leadership and management are holding back too many otherwise great leaders in the workplace.
There are seven myths that I have seen hinder managers time and again:
Here is a breakdown of what those myths look like and their opposing realities.
As I describe in the video above, the myth of empowerment is the biggest and most pernicious management myth. Leaving people to sink-or-swim is not empowerment—it’s negligence. It is the definition of what I call “false empowerment.”
But the reason so many managers are trapped by this myth is that, for the most part, they are afraid of micromanagement. Many managers often second-guess their own instincts, afraid their employees will fire back with, “Don’t micromanage me!”
The reality is that almost everybody performs better with more guidance, direction, and support from a more experienced person. Think of yourself like a coach to a professional athlete.
This myth is the combined result of several factors. First, that HR has an (understandable) aversion to litigation risk that has led to a presumption that any differential treatment is somehow “against the rules.” Second, that some people have become wary of political correctness to the point of self-censoring any mention of differences between and among individuals—even observable merit-based ones. And third, the popular misunderstanding of human development theory, which holds that “we are all winners.”
The reality is that performance is relative. Some outperform others. In that case, treating everybody the same, regardless of their behavior, is what’s truly unfair.
Lots of managers act like jerks. That doesn’t mean they are strong. That doesn’t mean they are effective. It just means they are acting like jerks.
The reality is that real “nice guy” managers do what it takes to help employees succeed so those employees can deliver great service and earn more rewards for themselves.
Most managers find that the most painful and damaging aspect of managing is when they must have very difficult conversations with employees. They believe that being a strong manager requires or even causes these confrontations.
The reality is that being a weak manager makes these conversations inevitable, whereas being a strong manager means even the most difficult confrontations rarely occur, and when they do happen, they are not so painful after all.
Managers tell me every day that despite their best efforts, they are held back by rules and red tape. And almost always, right beside them, in the very same organization with the very same rules, there are lots of managers who find ways to work within and around the rules. It’s difficult, but they do it anyway.
The reality is that the rules are most often there for a good reason. All it takes is an understanding of the rules, exactly what they are and are not. Managers should endeavor to make strong relationships with folks in HR who can help them navigate the red tape effectively.
The underlying theory here is that some people are natural leaders and therefore the best managers. Try as they might, others without that natural ability will never be able to achieve a high level of management.
The reality, of course, is that management is a skill like anything else. With dedication and practice, anyone can become a great manager. And while some people may have that special brand of charm or charisma—that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at managing people. Natural leaders are sometimes the ones who come in with enthusiasm and energy, but not very much of a plan, causing team members to run wildly off in different directions.
There is only so much time in a week, and many managers feel there’s simply not enough time for them to complete their own work in addition to managing others. The irony is that not investing time managing is what costs the most time in the end.
It’s what I call the vicious cycle of undermanagement:
It may seem counterintuitive at first but it’s what works—the only way to get back your time is to start spending more time managing others.