Over a period of years, most managers develop their own style. Generally, through some trial and error they see what works and what doesn’t, then build the successful things into their repertoire for use again. After all, when something works, it just makes sense to keep it – right?

Not necessarily. Certainly it makes sense for appliances and perhaps cars even. But for your management style however, the answer is more like those khaki Dockers that were so right when you started. Good for a while, but not forever.

People get promoted, in most cases, because they have the right stuff at the right time. Such stuff usually includes things like technical expertise, good people skills, high IQ, high potential for the future, a well-honed brown nosing ability, or simply because they were the one with the best mix of what the organization needed at the time.

And when we get a promotion, we usually take that as a signal that we’re doing something right. After a few years, if we’re still getting promotions and good annual reviews, we start to take it for granted that we’re competent and good at what we do. “My style works.”

At that point, without knowing it, we’ve entered a Danger Zone. This happens to many managers and leaders. The person starts to figure that his or her style is effective. They begin placing ever more faith in their ability and judgment.

That may be a bad call. Case in point:

I worked with a senior vice president a few years ago who was in a similar situation. After years of success he’d become less inclined to ask for or take advice about what was needed. What he didn’t see – and no one above or below was telling him (they rarely do) – was that his management style was no longer appropriate for the current environment. Like one of those uncles or aunts who show up during the Holidays wearing an outfit they bought a decade ago and think they still look cool, he’d lost the ability to see himself objectively. He was turning off his superiors and had lost the respect of his subordinates because his management style was out of touch with the new reality.

He needed a makeover. Urgently.

Before you get into the same situation, start checking your style before you’re asked to simply “check out”. By the way, that is what happened to the senior vice president in my story. He’d cruised along for such a long period of time that the consensus was that he was unable to change – so they let him go for a newer model.

I see this happening more frequently in organizations now. Commenting on the whole issue, I had an executive tell me that it’s actually easier to replace her managers than to invest in training them. And, with the job market tightening up in some regions, she’s going to be able to do this for a long time.

Take a hard look at your style and compare it with the new kids on the block. Compare yourself with the best managers you see. Ask yourself honestly how you compare with the best in class. If you need to make some adjustments, upgrading your management skills – do it now. Before it’s too late.

The best leaders are constantly improving themselves. They never become obsolete and are almost never terminated. Interestingly, they are usually the most satisfied executives I come across.


Leadership Coach