7 min read

Wil’s Wednesday: The problem with today’s managers.

Insecurity causes the downfall of managers. And insecure managers will likely be forced into shifting the reason why their team’s productivity has been so poor once the economy picks up and that productivity is oh-so needed.
Wil’s Wednesday: The problem with today’s managers.
Photo by Josh Withers / Unsplash

(I know. It's not Wednesday. I'm late with this week's article. Let's pretend, for a few minutes, it's still Wednesday, shall we?)

"The advice that you need to simply stay out of people’s way assumes those people always have the skills, maturity and organizational context to make the right choice for themselves and the company. This is a BIG assumption."


I don't remember my first boss.

Whether that person was a leader or a manager doesn't really matter. Either they had little impact on me or I have a terrible memory.

(Or both.)

I do remember most of the places I worked at. Yet I don't remember many of the folks who managed me and my career at those organizations. I do remember the one person who acted like a leader in my career.

I also don't know where I picked up my managerial and leadership skills. And that's probably a good thing. I probably picked them from many different successes and (even more so) failures over my career.

However, I probably learned those skills mostly from myself.

And that's likely because I know myself, I know what I want to get out of my career and how I know how I can help others.

"And for real, if you’re going to lead, actually lead people. Leadership requires you to sacrifice your own time, to in many cases be the person that gets in trouble, to use your experience to help people through difficult times, to make decisions based on your expertise that involve using the strengths of your team."


Why are you working on that?

A colleague of mine once asked me why I was working on a specific part of a project. We were preparing for a new product launch and I was working on some new software to better understand how we can better target a specific audience.

"Why don't you let your team do that?", he wondered.

"I can't tell them to do something without understanding it first", I retorted.

I get it. That's a delicate balance between being an individual contributor, a manager and a leader. However, this new software would be with us for a long time, and I was convinced we'd use it more and more as we understood its features, value and power.

And maybe I could have just left it to the team to 'figure it out'.

Yet, I got this sneaking feeling that wasn't my team's expectation of me.

We were going through a massive company-wide transformation and I was brought in to lead the marketing, communications and technology efforts.

Learning this software (and related processes) wasn't just a one-time event. It would become the foundation of all our communications. It was an investment in our clients and our markets that we were going to communicate with them in a modern way.

And more importantly, it was an investment in the team.

Understand. Lead. Manage. (Repeat.)

Why does any of this matter?

This chart, as wonderful as it looks, scares me.

Civilian unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted | U.S. BLS

The unemployment rate is continuing its march downward. (Wonderful!)

While not at pre-pandemic lows, more and more people are coming back into the workforce, looking for and finding jobs. And those workers who are currently employed and feeling ‘stuck’ in their jobs today are eyeballing new opportunities that provide more balance and fulfillment.

And given the past year-plus of job-related stress, how managers have worked and are working with their staff will come to light by how many of their employees leave their company. (Scary!)

(Insert something about employees not leaving companies, rather they leave their bosses here.)

And given how many managers (and supposed leaders) seem to skate by with little to zero interest in their team's careers or advancement, the spotlight on bad managers and leaders will only become brighter as more and more people leave their companies...err...bosses.

A clear horizon?

In the town where I live, the weather turned nice(r), the smoke from fires has cleared (for now) and more and more people are simply walking around. Mask wearing seems to be sporadic.

That’s much different than just a few weeks ago when hardly anyone was walking around. (And those who were out, seemingly everyone was still wearing masks.)

As I talk with Uber drivers, bar managers and restaurant workers, things are starting to get busy again.

“There will be this big boom as pent-up demand comes through and the economy is opening,” said Ellen Zentner, chief U.S. economist for Morgan Stanley. “There is an awful lot of buying power that we’ve transferred to households to fuel that pent-up demand.”


Will that spending spree continue into the remainder of 2021 and into 2022?

The Conference Board says yes:

As a result, in the second half of 2021, a strong US economic recovery is likely to take place. Economic activity is likely to be about 5% above the first half of the year, according to The Conference Board. The recovery will be especially strong in the hardest-hit industries, where employment levels are still very depressed compared with pre-pandemic levels.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/14/perspectives/jobs-boom-2021/index →

And why wouldn’t it? With Thanksgiving, Christmas and other year-end holidays just a few months away, more people will start their travel plans, spending money on food, travel items and trips.

More demand likely means more available jobs. More available jobs likely means those who aren’t happy with their current companies/managers will likely begin looking for and transitioning to new opportunities.

And, unfortunately for these companies, those who will start looking are likely top-performers, unhappy with their ability to move forward.

Side note: This reminds me of the discussion that employees should be viewed in an as-a-service model. Much like other *aaS models, that gives the freedom for both the company and employee to move in a different direction. The company’s incentive, given the high hard costs of onboarding, is to focus on the employee. The employee’s incentive, given the high emotional cost of finding a new job, is to continue delivering. That's the intersection that makes this all work: The manager continues to challenge the employee and the employee continues to deliver for the organization.

The traitorous eight.

While a pandemic might be unusual, poor management is not. And while poor management can be seen in the short-term as negatively disruptive, it can be viewed as a positive disruption in the long-term.

In doing some research on Intel, I went down a rabbit hole. Which lead me into the story of how eight key employees broke off from Shockley and began what can be considered the foundation of technology and Silicon Valley.

Which lead me down the path of why the eight broke off to begin with.

Why? A combination innovative thinkers being held back by a paranoid manager:

Historians and colleagues generally agree that Shockley was a poor manager and businessman. From early childhood he was prone to outbursts of unprovoked aggression, which were suppressed due to the internal discipline of his past working environment. He also tended to see rivals, even in his own subordinates.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traitorous_eight →

For those workers who have had an urge to do something more in their current roles being shut down by an unsupportive and unambitious manager, new opportunities might give these workers a chance to scratch that itch.

And maybe even create the next Silicon Valley.

If you believe your company is innovative and is listening to your employees, your belief is going to be seriously tested over the next few months.

The coming failure of Apple?

I mean, take a look at Apple. Even one of the most market-valued, successful and innovative companies in the history of business is beginning to feel it...

And no matter how powerful its organizational structure is, Apple, like every company, is susceptible to personal mediocrity: Insecure B-grade managers hire C-grade players who won’t challenge their authority or their “expertise”, and products suffer as a result. We know the old organization joke: When upper layer people look down, they see brains; when brains in the lower layers look up, they see #$$holes. For an organization, the beginning of the end comes when the brains realize the upper layers are colonized by incompetents and get into Why Bother Mode.

https://mondaynote.com/apple-failure-modes-a5c9e1c9ffb0 →

It’s the word insecure above that causes the downfall of managers. And insecure managers will likely be forced into shifting the reason why their team’s productivity has been so poor once the economy picks up and that productivity is oh-so needed.

  • Product shipping dates slipping?
  • Innovation stalled?
  • Unhappy and withdrawn employees?
  • Shorter days at the office?

It’s cyclical and will lead to unhappy clients looking for options.

Get ready for the post-pandemic managerial bust.

People management is tough.

And depending on your culture, people management can be really tough for individual managers depending on their individual approach.

And that rolls down to their employees which then rolls out to your clients.

However, as a business owner or CEO, it starts and ends with you.

  • Does your culture allow for your employees to ‘feel’ their way through the pandemic.
  • Does your culture allow for flextime and emotional support?
  • Does your management style offer examples of what you want to see?
  • Does your internal communications match your external brand?
  • Are you investing in your managers?
  • Is your organization out of alignment?

Now might be the right time to reset your culture, your communications and your company’s management style.

Otherwise, your company is in for a rude awakening, right when the economy starts to hit its stride.