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Why most managers fail at managing and leading

by Natalie Grogan, CEO of The Outstanding Company

We know that management is a critical and complex function of organizations. Unfortunately, manager training and development are extremely lacking. In fact, 58% of managers in a large-scale study said they never received any training and 25% said they were not ready to lead when they got the job. 

To manage people, you first have to understand the basic functions of managing and develop certain competencies. If you train your managers in these areas, you will see exponential success.

My question to you is, even if your managers were only 10% better than they are now, what would that mean for that individual, their team, and the organization as a whole?

Consider the financial, emotional, and cultural impact of 10% less turnover, 10% more revenue, 10% better client retention, and 10% happier employees. That’s a pretty big deal for offering better training to just a single manager. Expanded through your organization, it is a game-changer.

The Three Types of Managers

Managers fall into one of three categories: efficient, effective, and productive.

Think of the managers on your team and where they fall into these categories, as we look at the functions of management and the competencies needed to reach the “productive” category.

  • Efficient managers get the job done using minimal resources.
  • Effective managers understand how to set the right goals, or where to focus the team’s activities and energy.
  • Productive managers combine high efficiency and high effectiveness, achieved through developing management competencies and mastering management functions.

I Bet You Can't Name the Four Functions of Management

As an experienced manager, when was the last time you considered what the four functions of management are? Maybe never. Unless you went to school for business, HR, or I/O psychology, you may have never learned them. So, how do we expect managers to become outstanding at their job, if they don’t even know what it really entails? The four categories of management activities are: planning, organizing, leading, and controlling.

Planning is the foundational function, revolving around goals. Defining goals, laying out the strategy for achieving them, and mapping how to execute the strategy all fall into the planning category. This is not something most people learn prior to becoming a manager. Of course, planning becomes more complex as a person grows in their career so building this foundation early is critical—but often overlooked.

Organizing follows planning and is focused on the day-to-day execution of the strategy. Breaking the strategy into tasks, deciding who should execute them, creating a team structure, and determining who makes decisions are all elements of organizing. How does a person who has never managed naturally know how to do this? They generally do not.

Leading facilitates getting things done by supporting the team. Aspects of leading include motivating employees, directing them on where to spend their time and what to do, establishing clear lines of communication, and resolving conflicts that may arise. Leading is a blend of hard and soft skills, some of which are innate but most of which must be learned and we’ll get into those shortly.

Finally, controlling examines results. Managers are responsible for making sure that their team’s activities are supporting goal achievement. Controlling includes measuring performance progress and making appropriate adjustments when goals are not being achieved. Remember, an effective manager sets the right goals and focuses the team’s activity. We don’t know if effective managers take a long time or spend a lot of money in the process. Efficient managers get things done in the least amount of time/effort/money but we don’t know if they’re getting the right things done. Productive managers are those who achieve results by being efficient and effective.

What kind of difference would it make if your managers were taught all of this up front and then built on the knowledge through hands-on experience?

Management Competencies

Suryanarayana (2017) identifies eight management competencies that fall into three categories: personal skills, interpersonal skills, and group skills. Personal skills relate to the management of the self and incorporate self-awareness, stress management, and analytical and creative problem solving. Interpersonal skills address building relationships, influencing others, and conflict management. Finally, group skills are those related to empowering others, delegating, and team building.

Every single competency is important, and they all influence one another. Through my experience consulting and education in I/O psychology, the following three competencies are what I believe contribute most strongly to organizational productivity and that should be required learning for all new managers.

Critical Management Competency #1: Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the absolute #1 most valuable thing for a manager to grasp. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, did an incredible study on self-awareness. She found that 95% of people believe they are self-aware. She also found that only 15% of them actually are. That means that 85% of the people you talk to every day are likely not self-aware.

What does self-awareness translate to in the workplace? It helps us learn what innately motivates us, how we communicate, how we naturally prefer to work, whether we make decisions subjectively or objectively, and more. The game-changer is being able to apply these at work to become more productive.  

You can’t understand yourself without understanding others and you can’t understand others without understanding yourself. Everything is in context. If you don’t developing self-awareness you’re not going to be nearly as successful in building relationships, influencing others managing conflict, empowering others, delegating, and building teams—all management competencies.

Client Story: I was working with a C-Suite client who has put a lot of time into developing self-awareness, using my favorite tool The Predictive Index (PI). Through the 5 minute PI assessment and self-reflection she knew that her natural state is assertive, fast paced, driven to get things done, informal, casual, and unstructured. She had been struggling with her employees not understanding what was expected of their work and doing things wrong. Her self-awareness development helped her understand that she wasn’t managing people in the way they needed her to. Because of her nature, she would give them directive instruction (assertive), assume they understood (informal), and expected them to move quickly (fast paced), and ask questions if they had them (unstructured). Maybe some people on the team worked the same way as she did, but most did not. She understands now that becoming aware of her work style and learning about the people on her team’s work styles can help her become more efficient, effective, and ultimately more productive.

Critical Management Competency #2: Stress Management

Poor stress management can impact all areas of life and definitely organizational productivity. The physical and emotional impacts of stress can derail the other competencies like creative problem solving, influencing, maintaining positive relationships, and effectively managing conflict.

Case Study: In my experience, before I developed a stress management practice, stress could overwhelm me, and both my work and relationships suffered. Unmanaged stress impacted my communication skills, led to short or frustrated conversations and the inability to manage conflict well. Poor communication skills also led to inability to influence others, empower them, and delegation was nearly impossible. Developing a stress management practice leads to stronger resilience. Resilient people are extremely valuable because they can handle setbacks and get right back up and keep moving forward. Resilience supports nearly all the management competencies.

Critical Management Competency #3: Empowering Others

Empowering others is a learned skill that can transform individual and team performance and should be taught all day every day. A lot of managers do the opposite. When managers feel threatened, they tend to seek more control. Empowerment means helping develop people to be self-efficient, self-determined, take personal control over their activities and that leads to more meaning and trust. People are then able to accomplish things on their own and are actually more likely to. Empowered employees are most satisfied, innovative, trustworthy, effective, and have higher levels of morale and commitment. It also takes a lot of work off the manager in the long run.

Case Study: In the self-awareness example above, understanding yourself and yourself in relation to others can lead to incredible break throughs. The client in that example learned valuable empowerment skills by first understanding that detailed delegation did not come naturally to her. She valued empowering others prior to working on self-awareness but she was not providing them enough tools to feel empowered. Ultimately, her self-awareness work led to better empowerment and delegation.

Better Managers, Better Work, Better World

Management often seems like a natural promotional step for people who are growing with an organization, perform well, or exhibit leadership skills. However, not everyone is cut out to manage, and most do not show up on the first day of the job with an understanding of managerial functions and competencies. Well-developed manager training programs could have a major impact on organizational productivity but is still lacking in both formal education and on the job.

The Outstanding Company has created a Management Training Program based on these principles of Industrial-Organizational psychology to help your managers develop the skills they need to be outstanding at leading and managing other people. If you’re interested or would like to nominate someone, please fill out this form.


Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. (2019). Organizational behavior. Pearson Education Limited.

Suryanarayana, A. (2017). Critical role of managerial competencies in productivity enhancement interventions: a HRM perspective. In C. Machado & J. P. Davim (Eds.), Productivity and Organizational Management. Berlin: De Gruyter.

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We welcome the opportunity to introduce you to Talent Optimization, implement these tools within your organization, and work with you to continuously improve your business results year after year. We empower your teams to use the tools and are here for you when you need us.