Getting to Square One: Challenges for Managers

I learn a lot about people by talking with managers about the challenges they face in their work. Their stories describe their concern for showing leadership, their struggles to find a response to difficult situations, and their satisfaction—or at least their relief—when they find a resolution.

A more troubling theme in these stories emerges when recognized problems go unresolved. At times I feel an affinity with Ray on Car Talk when callers answer that a serious care problem has been occurring for months. “And you’re just calling me now??”

Actually, for a large majority of problems, managers do not call anyone. They endure.

    • They do not want to admit they need help.

    • They doubt others have anything to offer.

    • They hope the problem will just go away.

In short, managers approach the world as an isolated individual. They may recognize the limits of their abilities, but do not have anywhere to turn for help. Their boss may be unable or unwilling to help. Their fellow managers may be so overwhelmed by their own challenges.

Recognizing a problem and identifying a potential solution may still not lead to action.

    • Outside expertise costs money.

    • In-house expertise costs time and social capital.

    • Choosing to address a problem requires managers to take a risk.

Major management problems are group problems. One employee who is chronically late or absent presents a problem, but one that most managers feel confident that they can address. A workgroup with chronic problems with attendance requires more sophisticated action. A workgroup lacking resilience, civility, or a team identity needs to upset its status quo on its way to finding a better way of working together.

Most managers need some help to make that kind of change.

What to do:

    • Find Expertise. The world is awash in excellent writing on management. Locate an approach that makes sense to you and master an approach.

    • Build a Team. Recognize that your fellow managers face similar problems and have created solutions along the way. Create a forum for sharing your wisdom.

    • Be Humble and Confident. You do not need to know everything to succeed, but you do need to constantly learn.

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