Corporate Leadership: Avoid the fatal flaws of management

Last updated on May 16th, 2022 at 09:41 pm

Many thanks this month to Vistage TEC member Barbara Kurka of New York City and TEC Resource speaker John Boyans of Brentwood, Tenn., for their thoughts on this curious topic: a manager’s five fatal flows and their five rights.

A manager’s five fatal flaws

1.    Unclear and inconsistent communication.

I’ve written about this issue numerous times the last several years. Deliver the message. Be clear, specific and concise. Say it in 25 words or fewer, if possible. Then make sure your audience understands it.

Now, listen to the feedback. Listen for the intended meaning. Eliminate obvious distractions. Acknowledge your personal hidden assumptions and prejudices. Actively listen by asking probing questions. Listen with empathy for the “heart and soul” of what the other person is saying.

2.    Failure to acknowledge change.

The one thing we know about change in the organizational context is that it’s elusive and hard to recognize on a day-to-day basis, but it’s real. To ignore it is to fall behind. It’s important to understand why managers ignore change when they’re surrounded by it:

•    Emotion – like fear, anger and uncertainty – gets in the way.

•    Perception gets in the way. They don’t see the need for it.

•    Attitude gets in the way. They don’t believe it’s for the better.

•    Reluctance gets in the way. They want to “wait and see.”

To acknowledge change, a management team must do four things. It must identify the change and its source; make it patently clear why the change is necessary and what’s in it for the management team; show how the change itself will be negotiated; and be optimistic about the future.

3. Failure to manage team members differently.

Years ago, when I was the aircraft commander with a crew of 10 on a USAF C-141A Starlifter, my superiors warned me that I should always treat my officers and enlisted personnel on the aircraft’s long global missions the same, according to their rank and station. I never did.

And I don’t do it today in the corporate workplace. Every manager interacts with a variety of personalities. Each requires a different level of attention and “coaching” to maintain high individual performance. What’s important to one team member won’t necessarily be important to the next.

4. Failure to establish clear expectations.

Anyone who has a job should never doubt what’s expected. Here are ways to avoid that problem:

•    Be clear and specific when explaining their tasks.

•    Have well-defined performance appraisal standards.

•    Write mutual contracts with problem employees.

•    Measure team goals monthly and quarterly.

•    Have a minimum one-year mentor program for new employees.

5. No sound time management principles.

CEOs, in particular, have always struggled to fit 24 hours into a 12-hour day. It simply doesn’t work. The annals of time management doctrine basically stipulate four decision points:

•  It’s your time. Know what you want from it.

•    Be assertive about the difference between urgent and everything less than that.

•    Set your priorities and respect them.

•    If something is wasting your time, get rid of it.

Five rights of managers
Let’s turn to the other side of the equation. A manager can’t really deal with the five fatal flaws without having certain management rights to pre-empt the fatal flaws in the first place.

1. The right to set clear expectations.

I like the term “managerial paralysis” to describe a manager who is reluctant to spell out job expectations to an employee for fear of a harassment claim. Explaining job expectations is part of communicating well.

There were five specific expectations identified above, and these are all totally acceptable. Not included are issues such as work habits, use of company resources, compliance with company policy, and so on. The bottom line is that if expectations have never been discussed, it’s never too late to have the conversation.

2. The right to expect top performance.

Expecting top performance day-in and day-out from employees is a management prerogative. The caveat is that the company must define performance in terms of specific measurable objectives. That’s where the process typically breaks down. Or more specifically:

•    The company talks about top performance in general terms.

•    It doesn’t set the “bar” by mutual agreement.

•    Employees see that it doesn’t apply to everyone.

•    The company doesn’t reward top performance through recognition or incentives.

3. The right to change

Top management is not in business to protect the status quo. It’s in business to advocate change and to advocate this important management right. I’ve already explained how to accomplish change. But for any change process to work, there has to be a change contract, which doesn’t have to be complicated. At minimum, it must include:

•    The employee’s participation in the change process.

•    Management’s right to change the rules as the situation dictates.

•    The employee’s right to discuss performance expectations that are affected as the result of changes.

4. The right to dismiss employees

“Management at will” seems to be old hat these days. But it’s true that if an employee isn’t right for the job, and there’s no other position for that employee, and training isn’t an option, then management has the right to dismiss.

That assumes, of course, that all the fundamental employment policies are in place, and that there have been no extraordinary breaches of management conduct or practice that would lead to a justifiable employee lawsuit. If you have further questions about corporate law, you might want to consider consulting a professional corporate lawyer for more information.

5. The right to make mistakes

No manager is perfect under any circumstance. Mistakes are inevitable. They’re also fixable, and that’s the sign of a great manager: to admit a mistake and fix it, and to be supported by the CEO in the process. The same is true with employees. They will make mistakes. They should also have the opportunity, working with their boss, to fix them.

These are challenging times for many companies. Sticking with the basics and staying focused will go a long way toward future success. History says so. Until next month, avoid those flaws and exercise your management rights!

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