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The Hard Realities of Managing People | Bruce Tulgan

By Bruce Tulgan – Republished with permission

It is our mission to fight the undermanagement epidemic and spread the word about highly engaged management. So many leaders, managers, and supervisors are held back by the belief that a strong, hands-on approach to management is wrong. Many participants in my seminars tell me, “I feel like you are giving me permission to manage, to be the boss. What a breath of fresh air!” And yet, at the same time, their employers say, “This is basic common sense! Of course, managers have to manage, plain and simple.”

Where does the disconnect come from? It’s a two-pronged issue.


The Vast Majority of Managers Receive Little to No Training

Most managers move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they are very good at something. Typically, managers were once the high performers on their team – the ones with the most knowledge, skill, or experience. They probably know the work inside and out. But they are probably not especially good at managing people.

Once promoted, most new managers receive very little, if anything, in the way of effective management training. Indeed, it is usually the case that managers are thrust into their new positions head-first and at full-speed, under enormous pressure to improve team performance and deliver results. This could be for any number of reasons, whether because higher-ups in the organization don’t understand the true value of leadership training, there are simply not enough resources to provide training to every manager, or the organization is mired in a longstanding culture of undermanagement.

Natural leaders are rare, and natural leaders who also happen to be great at the fundamentals of management are even rarer. While most people will get along in their management positions well enough without sufficient leadership training, it is unlikely that they will be able to take their teams or careers to the next level.

Most Leadership Training Doesn’t Address the Hard Realities of Managing

The other factor at play here is that most leadership and management training today is dominated by a false empowerment approach. Increasingly, managers are being asked to adopt an exclusively facilitative approach in an attempt to empower employees: only provide guidance and direction when employees ask for it, trust that employees will be able to figure out best solutions or learn new skills on their own, allow people to work in their self-defined areas of strength and expertise. Basically, the lesson is that managers should let employees do things how they think they should be done and stay out of the way.

This approach may sound ideal, but the problem is that it only works in an ideal world. False empowerment thinking fails to address the hard realities of managing people:

  • You cannot always hire superstars. You have to hire the best person available and often that person is in the middle of the talent spectrum.
  • When you do hire superstars, they can be even harder to manage than average performers. Superstars are often ambitious high-achievers, and therefore more demanding of their immediate supervisors.
  • Even if you set expectations clearly, sometimes employees don’t achieve those expectations.
  • Not everybody is a winner. Dealing with failure is a big part of managing people.
  • Employees cannot always work in their areas of strength or expertise because there is always other work to be done – the can cannot be kicked down the road indefinitely!
  • Employees don’t always earn praise. And those who do earn praise usually want tangible rewards to go with it.

The bad news is that managing people is hard and it is getting harder. Employees of all ages, all levels of experience, and all levels of performance are becoming more demanding of their leaders and employers. False empowerment only exacerbates these issues.

The good news is that when leaders, managers, and supervisors concentrate on back-to-basics, highly engaged management, things get a whole lot better. Rather than being hidden behind the scenes, allowed to fester unchecked, the hard realities of management are addressed with solutions and best practices that work.


About the Author: 
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as, an online training solution. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009; revised and updated edition 2016), It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007; revised and updated edition 2010), Winning the Talent Wars (2001), FAST Feedback (1999), and the classic Managing Generation X (1995). His work has been the subject of thousands of news stories around the world. He has written pieces for numerous publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Harvard Business Review, Training Magazine, and Human Resources. Bruce also holds a sixth-degree black belt in classical Okinawan Uechi Ryu Karate Do. He lectures periodically at the Yale University School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife Dr. Debby Applegate.

About RainmakerThinking, Inc.:

RainmakerThinking, Inc. is a management research, training and consulting firm and the leading authority on generational issues in the workplace, founded and run by best-selling author and internationally recognized management expert Bruce Tulgan. Since 1993, their research has included hundreds of thousands of participants from hundreds of organizations in a wide range of industries. RainmakerThinking continues to pursue three ongoing longitudinal studies: The Generational Shift in the Workforce (since 1993), Leadership/Management/and Supervision (since 1995), and Human Capital Management (since 1997). Based on this ongoing research, RainmakerThinking has provided assessment, training, and consulting services for more than 300 different organizations ranging from the United States Army to Wal-Mart.

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