Why Ineffective Management Is So Common & How to Fix It

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "When They Win, You Win" by Russ Laraway. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How many bad managers have you had? Are you sure you’re a good manager? What common assumption about good employees is misguided?

Employee experience expert Russ Laraway says poorly trained, ineffective managers are everywhere, and they’re costing companies billions of dollars every year. However, he says he has the solution: By developing a few key leadership skills, you can greatly improve your team’s morale and performance.

Read more to learn why ineffective management is so common, how you can determine your own effectiveness, and why improving your skills is easier than you might think.

Ineffective Management

According to Laraway, bad managers are everywhere—they’re in every industry and company. To make matters worse, bad managers create disengaged, unhappy, and unproductive employees. In short, ineffective management hurts employees and employers alike.

(Shortform note: A Gallup poll estimates that, in the US alone, disengaged employees cost companies $450 billion to $500 billion annually. These costs are the result of reduced productivity and sales, absenteeism, and high employee turnover.)

Laraway says that this widespread management problem largely comes from how companies choose and train (or rather, fail to adequately train) their managers.

There’s a common assumption that people who are good at their jobs will naturally be good at managing others doing that same job. As a result, companies tend to promote their most productive employees to management without providing enough training or support. However, great employees won’t necessarily be great managers; the positions require different skill sets and mindsets. For instance, as a manager, you need coaching skills and a focus on your entire team’s results—or even the entire company’s results—not just your own.

(Shortform note: Along with lacking the skills and mindset to be good managers, many workers who get promoted to managers lack the confidence to lead effectively. These people often feel unqualified to be leaders or wish they could simply do the work themselves instead of guiding others. To make matters worse, their employees pick up on that uncertainty, and so they lose confidence in the company’s management. This arguably makes it harder for managers to coach their employees and improve their team’s or company’s results.)

However, failing to promote a good employee may cause that employee to leave, which is also harmful to the company. The best solution, then, is to promote good employees to managers and make sure they have the training and tools they need to be effective.

(Shortform note: Laraway writes as if every good employee will eventually be a manager or at least try to become one. However, not everyone wants to be in management. Therefore, continuing to recognize and reward those employees’ accomplishments without promoting them to management may be part of the best solution for everyone.)

Measuring Employee Engagement

How do you know whether you’re part of the management problem? According to Laraway, the best way to judge your effectiveness as a manager is to see how engaged your employees are.

To help you judge your employees’ engagement, Laraway breaks down the nebulous concept of “engagement” into two concrete elements: job satisfaction and workplace satisfaction. Job satisfaction refers to how much an employee gets a sense of pride and fulfillment from their work. Workplace satisfaction is how the employee feels about the company itself. According to Laraway, an employee with high job satisfaction and workplace satisfaction is an engaged employee.

Better Management Through Leadership Skills

The good news, Laraway says, is that anyone can become a better manager by learning and practicing a few basic leadership skills. He believes that leadership skills are really just people skills, and they’re something that any good manager should develop.

So, how do you become an effective manager and boost employee engagement? Laraway says that good managers focus on three key areas, which he calls The Big Three:

  • Goals: The first area of focus for an effective manager is setting clear goals for your employees: Your workers should know exactly what’s expected of them and when.
  • Coaching: Laraway says that setting clear goals is only the first part of being an effective manager—you also need to coach your workers on how to reach those goals. Not only does effective coaching make your employees into better workers, but it also helps build bonds of trust and mutual support between you and your team. Those bonds, in turn, make your employees feel more comfortable and happier at work; in other words, they become more engaged.
  • Career Development: Laraway’s third and final focus area for managers is career development: helping employees to plan and realize their long-term career goals, not just their current job goals. Notably, this focus area includes helping your workers advance their careers even if doing so means they eventually leave your company.
Why Ineffective Management Is So Common & How to Fix It

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Here's what you'll find in our full When They Win, You Win summary:

  • Why managers are to blame for employees' lack of engagement
  • How to improve your team's morale and performance
  • Tools for gauging your effectiveness as a manager

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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