Clueless manager

This is a personal (and somewhat embarrassing) story for me but this is also one of the reasons why I started the Manager Foundation. My confession is that I was an incompetent manger. I did not know how to manage my staff. I did not know what to say or do and as a result I didn't do much managing. And when I tried I was really bad at it and had some pretty bad experiences.

My first management experience - as clueless know-it-all

A short back-story: I was 19 years old when I had my first management responsibility. It was my 2nd year of traineeship at a small auditing firm. I was studying my undergraduate degree via correspondence. My academics were good and I performed well enough at work to be put in charge of a pretty significant audit job. I was young, energetic and succeeding. I thought I knew everything and could do anything.

Technical skills aren't management skills

It was a classic scenario: I had a curriculum full of technical subjects and I had proved that I was good at applying them in the workplace. My reward was being asked to do something that I had not studied, nor had I shown any innate ability: I was put in charge of a team.

Managing is getting people to do what you want

Worse, I was put in charge of people that had more professional qualifications and were older than me. This was really the deep end. No practice, no assistance, and definitely no life preservers. And I sucked. In the end, the job did get done. But not because I was any good at getting the staff to perform well. It was mostly because I covered for my lack of management skill with my own hard work. Finding and fixing mistakes myself. Working hard to fill-in any shortfalls.

Management skills and unknown unknowns

I didn’t even realize what was really going on. I was aware that some staff on the job were underperforming. I attributed this to their work ethic, their skills and that they resented being on a job run by a manager younger than them. I accepted these as inherent characteristics and I certainly didn’t know where to even start trying to fix this.

And my ignorance persisted - I didn't try to learn better people management skills. I passed my board exams and went to London. I got a job managing a finance team that handled hundreds of millions of pounds of capital spend. Technically I knew my stuff. I wanted to do well. I wanted my department to be great. I was conscious enough of building staff relationships to do a few things like spending my own money taking my staff to lunch. I did review my employees work which usually resulted in me doing a lot of extra work to improve it. But what I didn't have was a management system that provided:

  • Regular performance feedback to improve output,
  • Development of employee skills,
  • Increases to employee responsibilities and
  • Establishment of authority and accountability

In short I didn't have a system to motivate employees and improve performance.

Passive management

Essentially I just expected my staff to get on with their jobs while I got on with mine. I now realize that I hardly spoke with my staff as their "manager". I effectively capitulated on almost everything I should be doing as a manager. Because I didn't know that there was a better way of actively encouraging better staff performance than reviewing work.

A good technical qualification will only take you so far

I am fortunate enough to have selected a good qualification. I've learned a lot about business in my career. But the biggest thing I wish I could've done at the beginning of my career was learning practical manager skills. And I know a lot about finance systems but I wish that I had a people management system. This is why Manager Foundation has been set up. 

So what’s the take away for you from this?

Well firstly it’s ok not to be good at being a manager without training. Managing is hard and we can’t be expected to be naturally good at anything without being shown how and practicing. I’ve spoken to a lot of managers who have had similar difficult experiences. I’ve seen extensive staff problems in every firm and client I've worked at. In my opinion unengaged employees and under performing staff is the single biggest workplace problem. This isn't just affecting productivity and profits. This problem means people are unsatisfied with their work, hate their jobs. This contributes to life unhappiness. And managers are stressed because of management responsibilities. And managers are working hard to cover performance shortfalls. If you have found managing people to be stressful, time-consuming or difficult you would be in good company.

But managing doesn't have to be hard and work doesn't have to suck

Managing people doesn’t have to be hard. There are proven methods to improve employee performance that aren’t difficult to learn. And I'm not talking about bonuses and incentives because these aren't very good motivators - see the guide on motivating employees without money. That's why I started the program. It'll show you tried and tested management techniques to get better employee performance in just an hour a week.

“Almost all our misfortunes in life come from the wrong notions we have about the things that happen to us. To know men thoroughly, to judge events sanely, is, therefore, a great step towards happiness.”   --Stendhal

Know any new or struggling managers?

Now you and I both know how difficult it is to manage people but I'm not sure if I'm talking to the right person here.  If you know someone who has had a difficult time managing staff please share this article with them. I hope that sharing my difficulties can make other people feel better about theirs.

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I hope you find these free insights and actionable tips helpful and inspiring. The best way to use these manager skills to improve employee performance is by using one of the modules. The modules are each designed to solve particular management problems like bad relationships, low performance, low employee skills, ineffective delegation. But the best place to start is Managing 101. This is how I support the creation of this content. Please go to the solutions page.


Do you have any comments, questions or tips about managing people? Help the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below.

Boss Camp

So have you ever noticed how people want to be leaders? The word leader is sexy, prestigious, desirable. But the words boss, manager and supervisor are dirty words. People don’t like to be bossed around and everyone has got a bad boss story. Being a boss can be a thankless task and the mission of Manager Foundation is to make managing sexy. At WWW.BOSS.CAMP. The program includes topics such as:

  • How to motivate employees,
  • What are bad employee motivators,
  • What you must do as a manager but isn't on your job description,
  • How leaders get power.