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What's more difficult, Juggling or managing employees?

Juggling is pretty difficult but is it easier or more difficult than managing staff? I trained as an accountant and I’ve never worked in a circus although at times it didn’t feel that way. But I can tell you one thing: Managing is hard. In fact it might be one of the most difficult things to do because managing staff is about getting people to do what you want them to do. And it’s not natural for people to want to be:

• Told what to do;

• Held accountable or;

• Pushed to perform.

People have different personality types

What makes it even more difficult is that people are unique and complex. What works with one person does not necessarily won't always work with the next.

They don't teach you managerial skills in school

Going to university does not teach you how to manage people. Even management courses like MBA’s don’t teach practical people management. These courses focus on high-level leadership, covering topics such as vision, values and inspiration. This is all very important but it doesn’t tell you what to say to your staff and what to do with your staff on a daily basis.

Managing staff, like juggling, is a practical skill. So you can’t just read a book or do a theoretical course and expect to get good results from your staff.

Other people management challenges

The boss-employee relationship isn't a natural relationship. In your role as boss you represent the company. The leaders at the top may set the company vision, values and be a visible representation of the companies culture and public face. But the relationship that your staff have with the company is embodied in the relationship that they have with their direct manager which is you. 

This often conflicts with your personal interests and relationships. At times you will be expected to get your employees to act on decisions that you don't agree with.

It's natural to want your employees to like you but it's more important that they respect you. You have to build a good relationship with your employees. But being friends with employees causes a conflict of interest between your responsibilities as a manager and your loyalties as a friend.

Managers have to do unpleasant things

As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Being a manager requires that you act in the interests of the company, whether you agree with this or not. This includes making cost cuts, firing employees, addressing performance issues. If you are not prepared to do these things then you have to seriously reconsider if management is right for you. It's a difficult decision because being promoted to management is often the only path for career growth. And going from a management position to an individual contributor is perceived as a step backwards. It's not uncommon for managers to not be very good at managing and to not enjoy their jobs but be unwilling to change because it's seen as an admittance of incompetence plus a regression.

My belief is that you can do unpleasant things in a pleasant manner. And it's not all bad because as I explain in the management sweetspot you can align the interests of managers, employees and companies to create mutual value for all.  


Another thing that makes the role of the manager so difficult is that it’s a careful balance of being supportive vs demanding. On most personality scales these are directly opposite personality types. Usually people are either demanding OR supportive. Normally demanding people are good at getting results out of people. But demanding managers do it in a manner that causes high staff turnover, burnout and resentment. On the other hand managers who are supportive will not be very good at getting results. Worst case they may not even have the respect of their staff. A manager who can balance being supportive and demanding will do well but the really skilled operator knows how to be demanding and supportive at the same time.


If you’re lucky you had a good boss who was a role model and showed you what managers must do. A good boss, who taught you how to get people to do what you want them to do. If not then you’re like the other 95% of us who have had to feel our way around, learning things the hard way. And we are still bumping our shins in the dark. That


Typically people become managers when they demonstrate skill in a technical field. In other words when most people are promoted to management, they haven't studied management, they haven't practiced management nor have they demonstrated any aptitude at management. But technical skills are totally different to manager skills.

Combination of difficulty and lack of training in manager skills equals problems

So what happens when we combine something that’s really difficult to do with a lack of training? It’s not that different to being given 5 balls and be expected to juggle.

If you were anything like me then you didn’t even know what you were meant to do as a manager. No one ever told you the five things you are responsible for as a manager but that aren’t on your job description.

My experiences of managing staff have too often been:

  • Feeling it’s not worthwhile delegating to staff because I could do a better job myself in less time; 
  • Feeling like I have to do practically everything because I’m the only one who has the skills and diligence;
  • Finding that feedback is extremely stressful for both the employee and me. Often resulting in time consuming discussions and seldom fixing the problem;
  • Staff not taking any ownership for deliverables and leaving work with important tasks undone;
  • And generally staff missing deadlines, producing low quality work, not finishing assignments etc.

All of this meaning I had to work long hours to fill in the gaps, keeping things together through sheer determination and persistence. And I thought that this was just the role of the manager – isn’t that why they pay you more money?

I know I’m not alone because I’ve seen this in many companies and countries. So I started to wonder if there is anything that you can do differently to make managing people any easier. That was the start of a long journey that eventually led to the establishment of Manager Foundation. It's also the reason why I've made the www.boss.camp program which shows you how to make managing easy in just an hour a week - including proven techniques for employee selection, motivation and retention.

Managing employees is a series of behaviors

What I found was that managing people consists of a series of actions. Some are daily, some weekly and some monthly. Managing isn't a performance review every six months. To get people to do what you want them to do you can use well understood psychological motivators. It’s not about manipulation, coercion or paying people more money. It is about understanding the logical and (sometimes) illogical ways that people’s minds work. And understanding what motivates different people in order (read this slowly) to get them to do what you want them to do, by, making them want to do what you want them to do. It’s not about being nice and it’s not about being nasty. Some people just seem to be naturally gifted at persuasion. I know that I’m not and I’ve often been envious of people that are. But I’ve also found that it’s a skill that you can learn and get significantly better at.

In conclusion

So to answer the question at the beginning – is managing or juggling harder? I’ve never learnt how to juggle which you may think disqualifies me from answering the question. But what I can tell you is that in my opinion they are both equally hard. Unless you are a natural or you are appropriately trained, doing either of them like a professional is virtually impossible. But with just a little training you can impress at both.

Well that’s the end of what I wanted to share with you today but I don’t want to end on a low note or without something actionable/ useful. So my request to you is, if you know any good circus people, could you please put them in touch with me so I can start to learn how to juggle? Failing that if you know any new managers or friends, family or acquaintances that are about to make the step up to a manager position, please share this with them (there should be a button to allow you to share easily just below this).

Some good things about managing

Managing is your chance to be part of something bigger. And as part of a team we can do more than individually. This can give you a sense of belonging as well as a sense of achievement. You can also help your employees to grow and learn. This is satisfying.


Do you know that regular, high quality one-on-ones with your employees are the single easiest people management practice. Do one-on-ones right and not only can you can take care of almost all your management responsibilities in one go but they will also deliver you to manager Nirvana . It almost seems too good to be true – which could be why some managers don’t believe in them.

The reason why not every manager believes in one-on-ones is because not every manager knows how to do fast, high quality one-on-ones. As with anything in life, do it wrong and you're simply not going to see the results. But do it right and one-on-ones will change your life and deliver you to management nirvana. 

And the reason why bosses and employees have poor one on ones is simply because no-one shows you how to have high quality One-ones. I know none of my my bosses every taught me this skill and clearly no-one ever showed them either. What I do with Manager Foundation is that I show you the real world boss skills that you need but they don't teach you in university. That's why I made a mini-course on one-on-ones (including a one-on-one template with a one-on-one meeting agenda) which will show you 3 Easy Steps 2 1 on 1's. What I expect you'll find is that you already know some of the content on some type of level but maybe you're not putting it into practice. This will help. As I say this is essential for new managers and helpful for experienced managers.

I hope you find these free insights and actionable tips helpful and inspiring. The best way to learn these skills is by doing one of the training modules and if you would like to learn more I would encourage you to take a course. This is how I support the creation of this content. Please see the side bar for course links or go to the training page to find out more.

What can you do about things that you don't agree with

Like I said earlier, being a manager comes with the responsibility to do somethings that you may not agree with. For example it may be going with project B when you support project A. Or it may be downsizing a department. So what do you do as a manager? A mistake that most managers make is that they comply BUT they only pay lip service, doing the bare minimum and often revealing to their staff that they disagree with the decision but have to do it anyway. This is actually making your life more difficult, as I will explain.

Your integrity is important. I hope that I understand because I'm an accountant and they teach us about ethics etc. And it's great that you debate your point of view with your seniors before these decisions are made. Once a decision is made you have some choices which will affect you in ways that you may not know about.

Assuming that the decision isn't illegal or a breach of ethics.

Organisation success requires good ideas plus great execution on those ideas. If you are the boss that goes back to your employees and you tell them "I don't support this decision but we have to do it" or something along those lines. Then your employees will not be very engaged when they execute on the decision. And this will just make doing the action a lot harder.

Think about it this way: What if it was your decision that you wanted a manager to deliver? Imagine if at every level down the organisation the message was diluted. Or managers expressed their objections. How well would the decision get enacted.

To paraphrase Drucker: A decision is made until concrete deliverables are agreed.


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

Boss Camp

Being a boss is a tough job - you have the world on the shoulders. You are the super hero that keeps the lights on and the team together. WWW.BOSS.CAMP is support for super hero’s like you so you can get your team to do more of their jobs, leaving you time to do your own. 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.