Leadership

10 management myths that should be debunked

A lot of common ideas about management are foolish, misguided, and just plain wrong. Steve Tobak examines some misconceptions that could be holding you back.

There are as many management theories as there are management gurus, academics, and bloggers. And theories-- true or not -- have a tendency to stick around. That means there are lots of myths.

Management isn't a science; it's an art. It involves millions of people in thousands of organizations, each of which is unique. That's what makes it so subjective, by definition. Sure, certain innovative management concepts become the rule; but they're rare, that's for sure.

These management myths aren't just the most common, they're also some of the most mythical and therefore easy to debunk. And one thing successful managers have in common is that they don't drink the Kool-Aid or buy into BS fads. So if you aspire to be a successful manager, don't buy into these.

Note: This article is based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.

1: Bad managers are a bad thing

It's ironic that society is okay with bad spouses, bad marriages, bad workers, bad professionals -- hell, bad people -- but not bad bosses. Listen carefully: There's a bell curve for all things involving people. It's reality; it can never and will never change. Deal with it.

2: It's not what you know but who you know

Ah, the mantra of the perpetual underachiever, the assumption being that because he can't get a promotion it means the guy who did must know somebody. The truth is that overachievers work harder and yes, they schmooze harder too. That's why they know more successful people and are therefore exposed to more opportunities.

3: Management is the path to big bucks

For the vast majority, that's simply not the case. There's at least as good a chance that you'll hit the jackpot as a professional, individual contributor, or entrepreneur. That's because the big bucks are in a thin sliver of executive management and few managers ever get there.

4: You should be prepared for the job

Young managers should definitely get some basic training. But anyone who says he was adequately prepared for his first management role is BSing. A great deal of management skill simply can't be taught; it's best learned on the job, under fire, in the real world.

5: Abusive, confrontational, or dysfunctional managers are bad managers

Some of the most successful managers of our time fit that description: Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs, to name a few famous ones. Yes, there are plenty of best-selling books that promote the myth. But like it or not, I've never observed a correlation.

6: It's all about managing people

This is probably the notion I most strongly want to dispel. Sure, managing people is a big component, especially for line managers. And employees certainly want to believe they're first and foremost in the hearts and minds of their bosses. But if you look at the specific goals -- how success is defined for most managers - they're typically more about managing a function or a business than about managing people.

7: Leadership and management are unrelated

I hear this all the time and it's a huge misconception. While it is true that there are different skill sets, they're still intimately related. The truth is that good management skills make better leaders and the converse is also true. I would argue that great management requires excellent leadership skills.

8: MBAs make better managers

Yes, you learn a lot getting an MBA. Yes, it's a good piece of paper to have -- especially from a topnotch school -- if you aspire to senior management. But no, there is no credible evidence that it will make you or anyone else a better manager. That's largely because management is more art than science.

9: It's tougher to get in than it is to do

The truth is just the opposite. If you're capable, you'll become a manager. But it takes a helluva lot more than that to become a successful manager.

10: You should be able to do the jobs of those you manage

I can't even honor this myth with a logical argument; it's so ridiculous. For some people in some jobs -- primarily line managers -- it can help. In the vast majority of cases, however, there's little correlation, and it decreases further the higher you go up the management chain.

Bottom line

Perhaps the supreme, overriding uber-myth here is that there's a formula for management success. As long as people are unique individuals and organizations are unique entities -- and they surely are -- there can be no formula for successful management.

Certain qualities and processes work better for certain people in certain organizations and industries, but that's a far cry from a general blueprint for management success. It simply doesn't exist. So if you stop looking for formulas, you'll go a long way to becoming a more successful manager.

22 comments
Too Old For IT
Too Old For IT

The mantra of the Genghis Khan School of Management that says you should emulate Col Allan's alpha-dog habit of urinating in his office washbasin during editorial meetings. It is who you know, not what you know, and in some cases who you sleep with that gets you the promotion.

g01d4
g01d4

I can???t even honor this myth with a logical argument; it???s so ridiculous.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Wish the people in healthcare would understand that. Unfortunately, almost ALL healthcare management jobs make it a prerequisite that you be a physician or nurse, when those managers really will never touch a patient for the rest of their lives.

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

Several points are vaild, but MOST of them are pure BS when it comes to my experience in the REAL WORLD. I've been on both sides of the desk; I was " rewarded " with a management position and THE TRAINING IT NEEDS...Yes I have hired, yes I have fired..... You screed is the typical arrogance I have often seen from a corner office, which is one of the reasons I have noted a real decline in TR blogs lately. Such tripe belongs on BNET, not TR. Stop wasting my ( and other professionals who have to deal with REALITY ) time when we are looking for ANSWERS....not some halfA opinion...

briantaylor
briantaylor

On so many points, the author's positions run so directly contrary to my personal experience that I can't help but wonder if it was written just for the purpose of garnering comments or stirring up a debate. For instance, there isn't the slightest question that bad managers are a bad thing for any organization of any kind - business or otherwise. Just one of the adverse impacts of a bad manager is a constellation of increased human costs, such as the costs associated with losing good people, and the costs associated with the lowered (NOT improved) performance of those who remain. The author, peeping out from behind his "Bell Curve" chart, says that the curve is inevitable, ergo bad managers are inevitable. If there is any myth within this argument that should be debunked, it's the notion that the bell curve is inevitable and therefore must be accepted. Unlike certain naturally-occurring phenomena, the curve is most decidedly NOT inevitable in the field of human performance (and if it were, we should fire all of our managers since we'll just get "bell curve" results with or without them). That is to say, it is entirely reasonable for an executive team to tolerate nothing less than excellence from every member of the management staff, and to make that expectation the mission of its management selection and development process. "Oh well - you know, we can't get away from that old devil the bell curve" is a silly argument at best. The bell curve is only what you would expect to see in the ABSENCE of an effective management selection and development process. Do we allow managers themselves to fall back on the "bell curve argument" to explain mediocre team performance? I take rather precious time out of my day to read TechRepublic articles because they are generally of such high quality. I consider my time today to have been wasted.

johnupton2002
johnupton2002

Two words on this Lee Iacocca. If you can't do what those you manage do, it is nearly impossible to properly allocate work. Also when crunch time comes you are unable to jump in and keep things running, a critical part of leadership. Before Iacocca took over at the helm of Chrysler he had done nearly every job in the business, and quickly secured the trust and buy in from the UAW that was critically needed to put the whole 80's bail out together and make it work. The line people respected him because they knew he had been one of them in the past. This should be mandatory for line managers.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

"There???s a bell curve for all things involving people. It???s reality; it can never and will never change. Deal with it." Ummm... "Deal with it" is an interesting choice of words. When a manager turns out to be a total toad, one way to "deal with it" is to replace the manager with someone more competent. "Deal with it" usually has the connotation that the underlings must kowtow because that's the status quo. But like any job, if you are not willing or capable of doing what's required, there are probably several more just like you standing outside the door trying to get in, who can and will do the job.

Wyvern864
Wyvern864

You left out at least one myth: That a good manager can manage anything. Actually, some personalities are better at managing some kinds of businesses. The managers that rise to the top in one business have the right personality for that business. If they switch businesses, they may or may not be sucessful. This is proven over and over again when large corporations try to get into new business areas. More often than not they fail. Example: TI an excellent engineering compnay tried to get into the watch business. Seems like the management thought people wanted to know the precise time. Really, the watch business is a subset of the jewelry business. TI got creamed, with their marvelous time-telling gadgets that had no 'fashion appeal".

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Is "good management" the same as having a successful office/department/company/whatever it is you're managing? Are, say, MS successes ascribable to the whatever brand of poor management you claim Bill Gates performed? Or is it in spite of it, and due to other things, such as good timing, aggressive business decisions, good luck, good press, whatever? In my view, management is handling people doing work. It is not the only parameter to ensure success, in fact, it doesn't even come close. Thinking further on this; there's two things a business section wants to do: 1) Be successful. 2) Not be unsuccessful. 1 does not follow from 2, nor vice versa. It is very possible to be successful and unsuccessful at the same time. Just like it is possible to be both smart and dumb at the same time: Imagine a genius inventor who cannot implement his brilliant ideas, because he lacks the right kinds of smart for that. Good management is the equivalent of "not being stupid". Good management is not the equivalent of "being clever". Being clever and stupid at the same time isn't very optimal. Not being clever, but being very much not stupid is pretty ok, there's room for that in most markets. Imagine companies which have an "merely ok" product, but their logistics and reliability is rock solid. There's room for that, you all know there is. Being very clever, but being specifically stupid too...that's more iffy. A great product but poor delivery reliability? Know any companies like that? Sure, they exist, but they're not living up to their potential. Usually they get bought out.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

the belief that there is some panacea for success is endemic. As many trying to sell one as desperately searching for it.....

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Otherwise depending on where you are in the food chain you will be unable to be tactical or strategize.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Aww that's just plain silly ... 1 or 1a or maybe 5 would hire this genus of manager... Management principles are transferrable and can be taught but you are correct in the assertion that nothing drives the nail home like experience. Especially with regards to corporate culture (refer to 2)

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

Unfortunately true it sucks good talent from the trenches and often puts them out of their depth. Refer to Item 1 or 1a.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

The road to hell is paved with good intentions...

sbrickner59
sbrickner59

I agree with Brian Taylor; this article seems way below your typical standard, even if Tech Republic is forced to adopt a mythical bell curve for its contributing authors :). In addition to Brian's point above, I'd add re: #6 above that it's MOSTLY about managing people. The author says "...if you look at the specific goals how success is defined for most managers - theyre typically more about managing a function or a business than about managing people." Does this even make sense? Who is performing these "functions" or conducting this "business" if not people? The danger here is that some people reading this may not value the communication skills required to work efficiently with employees, and that would be a shame. As I tell my the technical support people I work with in customer service training classes (http://www.impactlearning.com/solutions/training-programs/customer-service/customer-service-training/), you will only be able to ascend so high in any organization if you lack the ability to communicate well with people, and that is a prerequisite for any "manager."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

He did a brief stint in engineering, and then requested a move to sales... So is that he did near every sales related job in the company and he knew how and ignition system worked thirty years ago... I may be wrong may be he's a top IT bloke as well, but was too modest to mention it... The way to get respect is easy. Given that you are good at what you do, you respect those who are good at what you aren't.... Thinking that after X years of not doing it, when almost certainly you didn't do it for that long, that you could just leap in and take over from one of your people, shows absolutley no respect whatsoever. I've been coding for near thirty years and I wouldn't expect to be able to do that.

sperry532
sperry532

Bad managers cost companies lots of money. They cost companies by allocating resources poorly. They cause good people to go elsewhere causing the company to incur costs for the finding, hiring, and training of replacement personnel. And on that subject, they will often hire poorly, costing even more. A poor manager leads to poor morale which leads to lower productivity. Costly!

Gabby22
Gabby22

Yup, a big myth, much promoted and only believed by management theorists. At the very least the manager must understand the dynamics of the business, including production peculiarities and market foibles. And you don't learn this quick and easy.

briantaylor
briantaylor

In some complex domains, it's true that a manager wouldn't necessarily be able (or expected) to "leap in and take over" (pick up where someone left off coding, for instance). In such cases, a good manager would be expected to have (or to create) other means of handling contingencies such as the sudden loss of a team member. And in order to do that, he still must have a strong understanding of each team member's job and the role he plays in the development process. So, to some extent this is a straw-man argument.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you are doing someone else's job, you aren't doing yours. I doubted this guy could do every job in the company, so therefore I doubt was the basis of his undoubted success. Now if you want to say his sucess as manager was dow to the fact that he could put ten baloons in a bag, an 100 bags ina box, and 10 boxes in a crate.... I know people who'll tell you that isn't as easy as it looks either... You don't have to know how to X in order to manager Xers, it could help, but it's much more important to understand that you don't know how to X, or did know how to X. Mangement is about providing an environment for people to do their work, it's not about doing their work for them. By the way a straw man argument is where you show how clever you are by knocking down a fallacious argument. Your's didn't qualify as a straw man either. More like two separate sentences linked by a paragraph....