Why Managers Don’t Manage: They’re Uncomfortable in Their Role

by Deborah Laurel

We’ve observed that there are reasons why managers don’t manage. One reason is that they are uncomfortable in their role.

Managers have to make difficult and sometimes painful decisions. Addressing poor performance, imposing discipline, transferring or demoting employees, and responding to grievances can cause even seasoned managers to lose sleep. Acting as judge and jury can be unsettling, particularly if your employees are former peers and friends.

Some individuals are just not psychologically suited or emotionally ready to be managers. I have a classic example.

I was teaching a class on supervisory skills to newly promoted managers. After hearing about the responsibilities inherent in the position, one new manager came to see me at the break. She had decided she no longer wanted to be a manager. She could not see herself in a role where she might have to discipline or fire an employee, particularly someone who had been a long-time peer. She left the class and demoted back to her previous non-supervisory position. It was a sad loss for the agency, but the best choice for her at that time.

How would you know that managers are uncomfortable with their role?

  1. They are still performing the work they did prior to their promotion to manager, even though it is no longer their responsibility.
  2. They give good evaluations to employees regardless of their performance.
  3. They prefer to be friends rather than their employees’ superior.
  4. They do not address performance issues.
  5. They articulate their unhappiness and discomfort to colleagues.

How can you help your managers past these three barriers? You can build your managers’ comfort in their role by having pre-supervisory training programs for aspiring managers. This training can help potential managers understand the full range of their responsibilities and the difficult decisions they will be expected to make. They can try out the role in various simulations, which will enable them to make an informed decision about their true interest and readiness for a managerial position.Another option is to ensure that the recruitment and selection process clearly spells out what managers are expected to do and what that really means for the new manager. Use behavioral and scenario interviewing for potential new management hires. Provide questions related to the difficult real- life decisions that managers need to make and ask the applicants to explain how they have handled the situations in the past and how they would handle them now.

A manager needs to be comfortable in all of the aspects of the role. They need to know ahead of time what will be expected, so they can make a reasoned decision as to whether or not they are ready and willing to assume all of the responsibilities.

About the author

Deborah Spring Laurel is the President of Laurel and Associates, Ltd., a certified woman-owned small business that builds and strengthens managerial, employee development and technical skills through the design and delivery of participatory classroom training on a national and international basis. If you would like your participants to leave training with practical skills that they can use immediately, or you would like your trainers to facilitate quality programs that effectively achieve their learning goals, contact Deborah at http://www.laurelandassociates.com, where you can also access over 700 management and training tips.