Magazine excerpt: Nature or nurture?
Margo Manning asks, are managers born or made?
No two managers are ever the same. Managers come in all shapes and sizes; each takes a unique approach to their work and has differing levels of experience; each one’s management style will garner differing opinions, with some working well, and others achieving very little.
The common denominator of a strong manager is the ability to take their team on a journey to a better place, like the leader of an important expedition. This means they will have taken steps to support progressive changes within the individuals on their team, and within the business as a whole.
Their style transforms the entire working experience, with colleagues often thoroughly enjoying their working day, safe in the knowledge that they are supported from every angle, and all the pieces are in the right place to allow them to do a good job. Working with a great manager is very often a deciding factor in how long an employee will stay with the company.
Great, bad and mediocre
Great managers go down in the history of the business and the memories of those they work with, leaving a legacy behind them.
Bad managers, on the other hand, are not constructive. In fact, their style is to undo progress and actively work against their teams by taking on a dictatorial and tyrannical attitude. They highlight every small error in a patronising way and even point out non-existent ones.
From observation, there are plenty of people out there who can’t even manage their own lives, let alone an entire company’s worth of others!
They take steps to tear down your personal and professional confidence, and operate on the highly outdated premise of fear producing the best results. Their working styles have such a detrimental impact on their colleagues and the company that, at best, they produce the bare minimum, and at worst, deliver nothing at all.
They often go on for years uncorrected, and leave a trail of destruction behind them. Some people find their jobs are made so unbearable by bad management that they leave the company in search of greener pastures, and in such instances, bad managers can be solely responsible for causing the detriment of a formerly strong and healthy workforce.
Then, of course, there are the mediocre managers. Nobody ever quite recalls who they were or what they did. Their middle-of-the-road style sends ripples throughout the company, and people who work with mediocre managers are often those who feel their life has hit a wall, or they are stuck in a rut.
This management style sucks the energy and enthusiasm out of the entire team, and they tend to sail by in an unremarkable fashion, never really breaking the mould but never failing miserably either. Mediocre management leads to coasting through work in neutral, and fails to produce anything of note or substance.
But why is the spectrum so vast, with such a huge chasm between the good and the bad? Is management style part of a person’s nature, or is it all down to the quality of nurture they received in earlier years? To what extent are managers responsible for their own working styles and attitudes, and how much of it can be put down to nature?
To consider management style to be entirely based in nature would be to suggest that every one of us is natural management material, which clearly is not the case. From observation, there are plenty of people out there who can’t even manage their own lives, let alone an entire company’s worth of others!
It would seem that the majority of the necessary traits come from environmental factors, which are used and interpreted to nurture strong natural leadership skills. But as much as these environmental factors can be the making of a natural leader, they can just as easily be the undoing of a natural leader, depending on all the variables that occur in the average lifetime.
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Many of the managers we encounter over the years will have got there in similar ways. The majority will have worked hard from a junior level, gaining experience and fine-tuning their skills as they go, and being recognised and rewarded with promotion.
They will have experienced their fair share of success and failure, all of which will have nurtured them into the managers they became. This mixed wealth of experience has given them the ingredients they needed to build an impressive management portfolio and to keep climbing the rungs.
However, not every manager has such a generally positive experience, and there are those out there whose performance does not live up to the expectations of those around them, or even themselves. When this occurs, questions begin to arise. How can they be failing now if they were so good in their previous roles? Why are they not performing so well now?
These are not constructive points to be making, and such a situation should be approached more like this: How well has this manager been nurtured? What support did they receive in the past to make them as successful as they were? In what ways have they developed, and how much development is being given to them?
When you think about this, if nature were a key player in the making of a successful manager, then addressing under-performance would be a much more straightforward issue to manage and solve.
About the author
Margo Manning is a leadership coach. Find out more at margo-manning.com
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