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How to motivate a reluctant manager: try these take-charge ideas to turn a ho-hum staffer into an empowered supervisor.

Ask any vice president about his or her management team and first you'll hear about the 20% who are doing well. Then you'll hear the rest of the story: those managers who can't make decisions soon enough; who can't give constructive feedback; who are reluctant to develop subordinates or to make employee changes when necessary. In a nutshell, managers who aren't really managing.

The truth is that most employees are promoted into management for doing a good job in their area of expertise, not because of their ability to handle people and details skillfully enough to get results. Although promotions like these are great for the individual, a manager who is uncomfortable about being in charge could spell disaster for his or her department.

"For [some] managers, managing the business really means doing the work," says Atlanta management guru R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., Ph.D. That's why Harvard Professor Linda A. Hill, author of Becoming A Manager (Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1992; $22.95) stresses that new managers must learn how to think, feel and value as managers, rather than as individual contributors or "doers."

But just how do you learn to think, feel and value as a manager? The first thing, says Thomas, is to stop thinking of the "people" and "business" aspects of your job as two unrelated challenges. Managers must accept that, by definition, management means directing the actions of a group by giving advice and instruction.

The emergence of work teams led by empowered employees has changed how we think of managers. Today, the terminology describing the basic traits of effective managers emphasizes the "team player" aspects of modern management: the ability to assert oneself, show initiative and influence others.

"Reluctant managers, on the other hand, often lack these personality traits," says Linda Quillens Baptiste, president of Molinger Learning Systems Inc., a training and management development firm in Marietta, Ga. In most cases, the reluctance is not because the manager doesn't know what needs to be accomplished. Unfortunately, say the experts, reluctant managers are simply afraid of the responsibility of supervising people.

Facing The Demands Of Management Life

Many human resource professionals find that developing strong interpersonal relationships in the workplace is extremely tough for some high achievers who are loners and competitive by nature. "Even the simple task of clarifying the goals and objectives to his or her staff can be difficult for individuals not comfortable being in charge," Baptiste explains.

An even tougher problem is when managers are roluctant to offer counseling or coaching to troubled employees. "Reluctant managers often ignore problems because it's easier to just not deal with unpleasant situations. Subconsciously they hope the problem will simply go away," adds Baptiste. "Rather than helping people grow professionally by providing them with the training and tools they need to improve, reluctant managers tend to ignore low achievers. When this happens, everyone loses out."

Baptiste, has also found that the role as boss can be twice as hard for managers who are overly concerned about being liked.

To ease reluctant managers along on that journey to empowered leadership, senior-level supervisors must help their subordinates assume responsibility for their staff. That means helping them face up to the fact that people look to managers for direction. Managers need to realize that the success of the group depends on how well they can direct and coordinate employees in their efforts both as individuals and as staff members. To succeed, adds Hill, managers "must learn to face real problems and real consequences." They also must be willing to make hard decisions.

In addition to realizing the scope of their responsibilities, Jerome Haynesworth, president of HR Solutions Ltd., a Southborough, Mass.-based management and training consulting firm, believes that reluctant managers need to be more versatile than ever before. "Gone are the cookie-cutter and cloned management models where managers only needed to be competent in one or two areas such as budgeting or organizational systems," explains Haynesworth. "Now managers must be proficient in a half-dozen areas to lead a group or a department, including how to be a team player. Today, you can't just sit behind a desk and occasionally check the work of your employees. You have to know what is going on at all times."

George Woods, marketing manager for Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Co. in Chicago, has no problem with the management-by-walking-around (MBWA) approach. His staffers feel empowered to make decisions. "Managers are often reluctant to make a decision for fear of making a mistake. But I'd rather have them make a decision than sit around analyzing things to death. Even if they make a wrong decision, at least we can do something about it."

The Road To Empowerment

If you have a manager on staff who is reluctant to take charge, says Baptiste, begin his or her road to empowerment with a thorough evaluation. Be sure to document specific performance shortfalls in your review.

Give your manager the self-assessment survey "Are You A Reluctant Manager?" in this article. Fill out the survey yourself (assessing your manager's performance), and discuss the answers before drafting an action plan for improvement. To be effective, this plan must have well-defined steps and strategies to encourage positive management behavior with set timetables and deadlines to assess progress.

Along with an action plan, Woods strongly recommends enrolling reluctant managers in training and development programs designed to beef up skills of new or prospective managers. "A good training program can change the way individuals think," she explains, "and can help them grow into a management position."

Woods also suggests that higher level managers coach subordinates as they make their transition into the first tier of management. "I'm more like a consultant than a manager to my people. I want them to know I'm there for them," he explains. Woods stresses that supervisors who launch their employee's management career carefully will improve his or her chances to succeed in the new position. This includes giving advice on how to effectively conduct a performance appraisal and how to motivate a stressed-out work team.

"One way to breed more reluctant managers," cautions Woods, "is to get involved in every decision that your employee must make." Woods credits his success to a former manager who trusted him to make key decisions. "Like him, I want to groom my people to take my job. That is empowerment."

Baptiste recommends that managers having difficulty embracing their new responsibilities need to get to know their staff. "It is important that managers learn what motivates workers, and what turns them off." She advises supervisors to evaluate the troubled relationship between a manager and his or her employees. She also recommends that the staff do a performance appraisal.

"Getting employees to provide feedback to a reluctant manager can help that person evaluate his or her performance from a completely different perspective - that of a frustrated employee seeking direction and supervision," says Baptiste.

Haynesworth advises that senior management review all the legal and personnel policies with managers who appear too tentative about reprimanding and firing employees. Not understanding their resources or the potential consequences of their activities can prevent even empowered managers from making a difficult or unpopular decision.

And finally, be realistic. Not all good employees were meant to be managers. If you find that a staffer can't meet your expectations, and training is not helping, find another position for that person. It is not worth losing a good employee if you can find a more suitable way to reward a job well done.


Answer the following self-assessment survey as honestly as possible. Choose the answer below that best determines your behavior in each situation. Give yourself from 1 to 5 points based on which answer you choose:

I usually behave like this. (3 points)

I almost always act like this. (4 points)

I always behave like this. (5 points)

1. I take responsibility for setting the climate in which people best leam their jobs.

2. I consider the experience levels of all my people and help them plan strategies to gain more exposure for themselves.

3. I set growth standards and encourage people to select workshops and seminars to help them improve their performance.

4. I take an active part in training my staff and do not delegate this responsibility to personnel.

5. I don't confuse training with educational programs (courses, seminars and workshops). I take responsibility for giving my staff increasingly difficult, complex or challenging projects and work assignments that will help them grow.

6. I think of my people as individuals and assess their individual contributions and performance on the job.

7. I try to train my people to be an even better manager than I am.

8. I reward appropriate behavior and penalize inappropriate behavior.

9. I reward and recognize staffers for adopting new and positive behaviors (even for small improvements).

10. I don't worry about staffers who occasionally backslide.

11. I enjoy learning and am constantly searching for opportunities for personal growth and development

12. I try to constantly monitor my own performance.

13. I have an image as a people developer and a manager who understands and acts in accordance with the corporate mission, goals and objectives.

14. I am guided by my own values and beliefs, which include the value of seting aside self-interest if necessary.

15. I keep the big picture in mind and plan for the future. I do not focus solely on the details of the day. 70 points or more. Congratulations. You're an empowered leader. 50-69 points. You are coming along. Look at your lowest scores and make a plan to make improvements in one area at a time. 15-50 points. You show signs of a reluctant manager. Enroll in some management courses to help identify and strengthen your weak skills.

24 or less. You are truly reluctant to take charge. Do you really want the responsibility of being a manager?



The art of coaching managers to become high performers involves a four-step process, according to Karen Drake of Owens Drake & Associates, a St. Louis, Mo. management training firm:

1. Give employees lots of feedback. Provide managers they can use to improve their performance. Be sure to be specific and focus on one thing at a time.

2. Don't forget to praise behaviors that you value. Be sure that praise is specific and timely. Be sure to provide praise without diminishers. In other words, don't say things like "Congratulations on a job well done; however, if you had only ..."

3. Provide reinforcement periodically. Don't neglect top performers who consistently do a good job. Stroke them often and tell them you appreciate their efforts.

4. Use reprimands sparingly. Reprimands must be used company or department policies are violated. Try to cold off before approaching your employee. Don't forget to follow all reprimands with "You're too valuable to let that happen again. As far as I am concerned this conversation is over and the issue is closed."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes self-assessment survey
Author:Randall, Iris
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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