Managers today are under more pressure than ever. The pressures of managing a hybrid workforce, navigating increasingly enmeshed cross-functional collaborative relationships, and retaining as many people as possible are really adding up. Plus, managers still have to find time to get their own work done.
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.
Myth: The way to empower people is to leave them alone and let them manage themselves.
Reality: Almost everybody performs better with more guidance, direction, and support from a more experienced person.
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!”
Think of yourself like a coach to a professional athlete. It would be ridiculous for a pro athlete to stop training, right? The same is true of your direct reports.
Myth: The way to be fair is to treat everyone the same.
Reality: Performance is relative. Some outperform others.
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.”
But it’s simply a fallacy that everyone performs equally. In that case, treating everybody the same, regardless of their behavior, is what’s truly unfair.
Myth: The only way to be strong is to act like a jerk, but I want to be a “nice guy.”
Reality: 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.
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.
Myth: Being hands-off is the way to avoid confrontations with employees.
Reality: 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.
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.
But think of regular, ongoing management like taking a run every day. When running is part of your daily routine, you feel stronger and your performance improves. But if you never run and then one day decide to compete in a 10k, there’s no way you will feel stronger. Holding off on running—or managing—until there is a special occasion is a surefire way to feel weaker.
Myth: Managers are prevented from being strong because there are many factors beyond their control—red tape, corporate culture, senior management, limited resources, etc.
Reality: Rules are most often there for a good reason.
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.
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.
Myth: I am just not “good at” managing.
Reality: Management is a skill, like anything else.
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.
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.
Myth: There isn’t enough time to manage people.
Reality: Not investing time managing up front is what costs the most time in the end.
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. But when managers fail to provide adequate guidance, direction, or support up front and in advance, it usually causes larger and more complex problems later on. The bigger and more difficult the problem is to solve, the more time it takes from everyone involved.
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.
We have a host of free resources you can use to bust the most common management myths and get back to the basics of strong management:
And if you need more support, we’re happy to help. Contact us to learn more about solutions for you or your team.