why don’t companies give managers more training?

Would you ever hire an accountant with no bookkeeping training? How about a doctor who hadn’t been to medical school? We tend to agree that most skilled jobs require some amount of formal training – and yet for one of the jobs that is most key to companies’ success, we frequently throw people in with no training at all: managing.

Many, many people get promoted into management jobs because they were good at something else. They were a good engineer or a good fundraiser, and so they’re asked to manage engineers or fundraisers. The problem is, the skills that it takes to manage people well are often a completely different skill set from whatever work the person was doing previously.

I recorded a piece for the BBC about why companies don’t give managers more and better training. It’s three minutes long and you can listen here.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Can’t eat sandwiches*

    Oh, I’m so glad you addressed this topic. Good managers are rare gems and many in my career have been horrible. The problem with my last few were that they were too high up in the food chain to be targeted for management training and never thought they did anything wrong. One of them (the most toxic) was on the committee for the company’s leadership training program, yet was the one that most desperately needed the training (or needed to be fired, TBH).

    1. Artemesia*

      The problem is not just that managers don’t get trained, but that they also are not evaluated and held accountable for their management. You can see huge turnover occur and still higher ups don’t take a look at failing managers and either change them or CHANGE them.

  2. Ali G*

    I learned how to be a good manager because a) my first manager in my career was AMAZING. Seriously, he was the best. Then I had 2 terrible managers. Having seen what a great manager is helped me understand that these people were just bad managers and I mostly learned “what not to d0” from them.

  3. AK*

    YES! I was given a 15 minute presentation on what I have to do as a hiring manager, but never got any more training as an actual manager. I’ve spent months calling good managers I work with and asking how they would handle situations to gauge my own reactions. The other thing that’s been particularly stressful for me is that I wasn’t ever trained on how to be a manager at my company. No one ever told me basic things like where or how to approve time cards, or the bigger things like what I have to do to get IT and tech teams to create accounts for new hires. I just stumbled through figuring things out and I’m still not entirely sure that I’ve figured out all of the company-specific managerial tasks I should know about.

    1. Tort-ally HareBrained*

      Oh yes! So much this about not knowing internal procedures as a manager and just stumbling along.

    2. AnnaBananna*

      See, the those aren’t even the most important. I would say learning not to immediately react is the key in the learning years. And yes, I say years on purpose, because it’s not something you pick up in even 6 months, but in every new situation that teaches you about yourself. It’s instrumental to have a management mentor, I believe. Why companies don’t support mentorship programs at the very least is apparently above my pay grade. It’s a minimum step in reducing blunders and doesn’t really cost them a thing, but a good investment in their management network.

    3. Zona the Great*

      Ugh that reminds me of my worst boss, the gaslighter. He hired me and I kept asking for management training. He kept promising it and it never happened. He never supported me in anyway and when I quit, I discovered that he wrote on my outgoing paperwork that I shouldn’t be hired in management without training.

  4. SWOinRecovery*

    This was one of the first things I noticed when transitioning from the military to civilian workforce. I watched my boss do things that were specifically taught as “what not to do” in my military leadership training. Concepts like, “praise in public, counsel in private” or “don’t task a subordinate with something you wouldn’t do yourself.” I learned to reset my expectations by reminding myself that my civilian bosses don’t get the training I got.

    I do wish I had a good enough relationship with some bosses to feel comfortable sharing some of these lessons. But I can’t spend the political capital on that when I’m breaking into a new career field.

    1. Suze*

      I transitioned from military (also USN) to fed gov with a private sector stint in between. Fortunately, my agency requires training for all new supervisors, even those that had it in the military. Of course, not all fed supervisors are good, but I’ve been pretty fortunate. My private sector employers ran the gamut too, but I had one real gem that taught me a lot!!

    2. JS#2*

      Can you explain a little bit more about what the military teaches you NOT to do as a leader? I know nothing about the military and I’m interested to hear how it’s different from civilian manager training.

      1. DragoCucina*

        I can address my own training in the Army.
        1. A shared mission was key. I apply that to the library. How are our rules aiding or hindering the mission? Does everyone understand the purpose of the policy and procedures in meeting the mission? They shouldn’t be arbitrary or secret knowledge.
        2. Take care of your people. It sounds simple, but it’s essential to leadership. I tell them to throw me under the bus. I’m there to provide cover.
        3. Respect personal space. Way back in the 70s one of the first things I was taught in the Army was no one touches you nor do you touch them without permission. Sounds weird, but it flows into both physical and emotional space. I honestly care about my staff, but they don’t have to share every personal detail of their lives with me.
        4. Work the chain of command. Don’t escalate before it’s needed. Most problems can be solved before they become big problems.
        5. As mentioned above, praise in public, counsel in private.

        1. JS#2*

          I like these! Thanks so much for sharing. (I also work at a library!)

          #1 is what I wish we had more of. I think we have a general idea of our mission, but I think most disagreements come in how to carry out that mission. Without a plan/procedures, everyone goes their own way without thinking how it affects others. I was just talking to a co-worker who mentioned something really interesting–we have plenty of managers at our work, but no leaders. That difference between managers and leaders is something I’ve thought about lately.

          1. DragoCucina*

            I wish we had more leadership mentoring in librarianship. Too often we’re throwing people into the deep end of the pool without teaching them to swim. I was fortunate to have a really good school principal before I worked for a very dysfunctional public library director. I knew how things could be. I often thought, ‘What would “James” do?’

            1. Candace*

              I started both junior mentoring and management training at my last large library system, and it was really succussful. I found it gratifying.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        My brother is military. I was really impressed by the army’s NCO creed. https://www.army.mil/values/nco.html Everybody is expected to memorize it before getting promoted to NCO.

        Not all of it applies to civilians, but I’m planning on making a modified version when/if I become a manager. A sort of promise to myself. If I can follow everything in there, I’ll be a long way towards being a good manager.

    3. MyDevon*

      This has been a significant issue with me as well. Much of my managerial training was in the military. In many ways i believe that you cant train people to be a leader, they either have that skill or dont (although skills can be improved with a willingness and hard work).

      I struggle with the job specific skills (ie. Reading a profit and loss statement). When i ask for assistance, since i never learned these skills, im often made to feel bad for not knowing it. Im damned for not knowing, and damned for asking for assistance. My company culture runs this way and ive accepted it won’t change.

    4. Lynn Marie*

      I’ve always loved working with former military bosses and colleagues, and have learned so much from them. They’ve got the leadership, teamwork, and problem solving thing down. With affection, sometimes they can tend to get a wee bit hung up on tiny procedural/ administrative differences between military and business culture – but they do get the big important managerial priorities right.

  5. Clawfoot*

    Oh my goodness, YES. My last manager was a great project manager. She was very good at organizing, scheduling, anticipating obstacles, all the good stuff. But she should never have been given PEOPLE to manage. I liked her personally, but she was awful to work with as a direct report.

    As an example, I was one of her two direct reports. One Tuesday, I asked my teammate if he’d seen our manager today, because I had a quick question about one of my projects. He was surprised that our manager had NOT TOLD ME that she was on vacation for a week! He never thought to mention it to me because he never dreamed that she wouldn’t have mentioned it to me herself.

    1. SWOinRecovery*

      That’s so frustrating! I think there’s a subset of managers who are not transparent about their working hours because they don’t want their subordinates to judge them for not working 24/7. I don’t care how many hours they work–I just want to know when they’re available!

    2. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I had a boss do the same! Left for vacation for two weeks. The day he left, one of us expressed frustration that he hadn’t heard from Boss about an urgent matter (we worked on different floors, so there were days at a time when we didn’t see him). Another coworker ended up going upstairs and asking the people who sat next to him and relayed the good news to us that we were without a manager for two weeks. Bizarre.

    3. tink*

      I feel like I’d be this sort of manager if it ever came up–good at the organization and logistics sides, HORRIBLE at the people side.

      1. Canadian Public Servant*

        I promise you can get better at that, if you wanted to! Sometimes organization and logistics are critical to good people management (e.g. putting in place processes that foster effective sharing of information, speed approvals or eliminate common friction points). Add that to a commitment to getting out of your comfort zone on the people side, and you’re well on your way to being an excellent manager.

        1. Harvey P. Carr*

          “getting out of your comfort zone on the people side”

          How can I do that?

          I’m not in a managerial role, but I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I’ve always been socially awkward, so this is definitely a skill I’d love to have – no, strike that, make it: this is definitely a skill I need to acquire.

          1. Canadian Public Servant*

            Oooh, I can’t speak to it from an Asperger’s perspective – I am merely someone who would ideally never have to talk to my colleagues except for a work purpose. For me, part of it was just getting into the mindset that other people are important as individuals, not just a means to achieve my ends.

            This has led to me making a lot more effort to get to know people’s names (and remembering the names of their partner, kid, dog, or whoever or whatever is important to them outside work), welcoming new people, making time for small talk, and being more empathetic and negotiating (versus aggressive and demanding) when people don’t/can’t give me what I want or need to do my job.

            And, similar to Lulubell, I have worked very hard to get over the baggage that stopped me from dealing with uncomfortable conversations and feelings, including enforcing my own boundaries. Part of this has been reading lots of Alison and Captain Awkward to get comfortable with some of the “scripts” I might need to use, part has been getting out of the mindset that negative feelings meant weakness, and that I had to “win” every conflict.

            It’s awesome that you see this as a skill (because it is! one that comes more naturally to some people, but it can be developed), and I wish you all the best in your quest.

          2. Tinker*

            Weirdly enough, I’ve found that a thing that helps is actually being respectful of one’s comfort zone.

            I don’t do social differently from other people for arbitrary or trivial reasons, I do it because (in the current scientific model of these things at least) I’m neurologically different from most other people and my subjective experiences can be significantly different from them. There’s not going to be a moment where I take off my glasses and shake out my hair in slow motion, and go forward into the rest of my life intuitively conducting myself in a way that reads as confident and charming and all that.

            What I can do, though, is work out ways to capitalize on my assets and protect my deficits to achieve the ultimate goal of connecting with people, while perhaps abandoning the goal of looking like everyone else when I do it.

            There’s a SF book called This Alien Shore that has the notion of a society that has become much more neurologically diverse as a consequence of space travel, inclusive of a neurotype that is necessary for long-distance ship piloting, and has thrived by constructing a set of signals and protocols that allow people of different types to constructively interact. One of the main characters is of the type that is basically autistic, and there’s a scene where he is interacting with a person of another type who is highly attuned to conventional social signals — it’s something to the effect of “We shake hands at the beginning because the need that his type has for physical contact to create a social bond takes priority in this instance, but for the rest of the meeting, in deference to the needs of my type, we do not touch.”

            My particular approach to this is — I’m not necessarily always explicit that I’m autistic, depending on how I think the other person will receive that, but I am kind of matter-of-fact that “this is how I do things” where the “this” in question includes things like generally not being around sound systems, probably not doing a lot of eye contact (and making use of the fake techniques, like looking at noses, when it’s necessary), stuff like that. As far as how I then do the connecting part — well, it’s kind of hard to convey. I’m often fairly explicit in literally stating my goals — like “I want to convey to you that I value you and to contribute to your comfort, so I am using the process of reflective listening” — but I do that generally within a social circle where statements like that play well.

            Regards that last, there are a lot of materials out there that propose some set of somewhat coldly-described social processes — Dale Carnegie is I think the classic, this is also an underlying basis for stuff like pick-up artistry (although with that, obvi, There Are Issues), but the one that actually connected with me was a book called Motivational Interviewing. It’s a therapist textbook for a technique that was originally invented for addiction counseling, but it’s basically a set of concrete techniques (with example scripts) for creating an emotionally safe environment to explore change and problem-solving, while working from a basic attitude of respect and appreciation for autonomy. I think that probably there would be a fairly direct connection between that and techniques for being an effective manager.

            Looping back to the bit about being respectful of your comfort zone — that’s kind of how I end up being a bit motivational interviewy to myself. Rather than having a pressuring and punitive attitude towards myself, as I might otherwise do — “you need to do this social thing otherwise people won’t like you, you’re being a bad person by not doing these things” — I go “hey, let’s step back and look at this: I want to connect with people, but also I don’t want to exceed my social processing limits or put myself in an unacceptably uncomfortable sensory environment, so what can I think of that might be a good way to accomplish these goals?” And a lot of times I realize that I can or even want to do a thing that’s in some way challenging for me — but, say, I want to do it briefly and then politely excuse myself, or I want to do it and then have self-care time without social commitments later, or I want to go to the llama racing arena but perhaps only watch and not actually ride a llama myself, or such like things.

            A lot of times it turns out that the resistant aspect of me is about some sort of legitimate need for safety, and struggling against it without acknowledgment means that the resistance has to increase because otherwise I won’t be safe — whereas, if I sort of “prove that I’m trustworthy to myself” by acknowledging and accommodating for the underlying need, then it’s suddenly much easier for me to do the thing that I was originally having difficulty with.

            1. GooOooethhee*

              This is so thoughtful and useful, thank you! I’m going to check out Motivational Interviewing.

    4. ThankYouRoman*

      Eck, even my worst bosses told us when they were gone! My boss now let’s all managers and myself know if he’s even going to be gone for an off site meeting. I can’t imagine just leaving that up in the air like that.

    5. Doctor Schmoctor*

      I had one like that. Great as a project manager. Our department fell apart when he resigned. But as a people manager he was terrible. He knew how to handle people who were just like him, but if someone just had a slightly different approach to things, he didn’t know what to do. So he did nothing. He just ignored me and another of my coworkers because we don’t just follow blindly. If we see a process or procedure doesn’t work, or can be improved, we say something, while the others just shut up and do what the boss tells them. Bossman didn’t like that, and we were pushed aside and given only the crappy tasks. At some point I spent three months doing literally nothing at work. I should have looked for other work, but that was such a low point that I started to believe I was just incompetent. That is what a bad manager does to people.

      New boss is slightly better. At least he tries

      1. Dissappointment Panda*

        I feel like I was that manager during my time. I really did try the last year (of 2) that I managed them, but at that point I had burned so many bridges with them that I felt like I couldn’t win. If I was flexible and incorporated their suggestions then I annoyed them with “another change” if I kept things the way they were because the higher ups said that is how they had to be then I was inflexible.

        After the third time of me asking the powers that be to changes roles, I was finally allowed. Couldn’t be happier.

        Being a a manager is hard. I agree every one could use more training.

    6. Doctor Schmoctor*

      Also, Project Management and People Management are two very very different things. But for some weird reason the big bosses don’t seem to understand this.

  6. Catleesi*

    It’s super frustrating. I didn’t get any training when I was made a manager, and it made for a really difficult transition as I ended up managing a former coworker and friend. I tried to put into practice what I had appreciate from previous managers but it’s hard when you’re in the hot seat. According to my employees, I did well, and according to someone from HR and other departments who sought me out to tell me so.

    However, I found out after I left that my manager thought I did a poor job because I “helped my team too much”. Like – if they were overwhelmed with work I would answer phones, or jump in with daily tasks.

    1. Anne (with an “e”)*

      How could the fact that you jumped in to help at crunch time make you a poor manager? You sound like an excellent, hands on manager to me.

      1. Effective Immediately*

        I have a very ‘hands-on’ style, though I have managed people whose jobs I could not do (as in, legally couldn’t), and this is absolutely something senior-level-but-not-direct-managers think when you’re hands-on. In my experience, they like it up to a point, but when you’re saying: hey, I’m doing this because team is drowning and I can’t manage if I’m always keeping their heads above water, the answer will sometimes be, “Well just stop” or “well MANAGE it instead”, as if “MANAGE” is some secret spell that will automatically right the wrongs of short staffing, or disproportionate workload or broader organizational dysfunction.

        This is part of the reason I really, really object to the ‘pass GO, collect $200’ method of installing senior leadership that oversees direct staff managers. I’ve worked for so many who have no idea what ‘MANAGE’ even means or what good management looks like.

  7. Hooray College Football*

    I was a supervisor for nearly 5 years. Aside from a bit of training on how to fill out forms/approve timesheets, there was no training at all. It was a dysfunctional office for many reasons. I had been promoted because I had managerial experience managing projects, which does not translate to people. I got stuff done, and people who needed me to run the office appreciated that, but I had real issues when employee problems arose. When I had the chance, I fled. (Took a lateral move to HQ (managing projects, not people). I love it.

  8. Dance-y Reagan*

    Like Alison said, many people get pushed up the ladder to manage a group of people doing the job they used to do. If that’s the only way to advance, they might be managing begrudgingly, so they aren’t actively chasing improvement. In my experience, professional development opportunities are often available, but are rarely obligatory.

    1. LQ*

      It’s interesting because my boss has moved me into a role where I’m not technically a manager but I am absolutely managing people (I don’t have to approve their time cards or time off and I can’t hire or fire but their actual manager doesn’t do that either). He moved me to managing in a very different job than what I used to do. It sort of feels like a strange move (why not move someone with management experience but not experience in this areas so they aren’t learning 17 new things at once, just like 10) but I do think it’s made me be a different kind of manager of the people because of it. I can’t just step in and do their work for them, I HAVE to manage them because it’s the tool I have. If I was managing people where I could just step in and do the work I would just step in and do the work about 50% of the time. I’d get lazy about managing the people, or not do it when it was hard because I could fix this problem and move onto the next one.

      I grudgingly admit my boss probably made a good decision to make me manage in an area I was unfamiliar with (but have an inclination toward so I’m picking up enough, but the people I’m managing are the actual experts and will do it better and faster).

    2. The New Wanderer*

      This. I had one manager who spent 75% of every 1 to 1 complaining about how they were forced into management. Unsurprisingly they left after a few years and are now back to an individual contributor role.

  9. Anon From Here*

    A good friend of mine was so good at his job (he was almost literally a rocket scientist, so let’s call it that) that he was promoted to managing the other rocket scientists in his lab. He didn’t want to be a manager, though — he wanted to be a rocket scientist! He quit after a short while to go back to being a rocket scientist for a different lab, which was too bad for the first lab, which lost not just a manager but also an excellent scientist.

    1. whingedrinking*

      I remember watching Top Gun for the first time and having two main thoughts – “the cinematographer must have been colour blind”, and “why would the very best fighter jet pilots in the world compete intensely in a fighter jet pilot program in order to win a job as a teacher?!”

    2. Bagpuss*

      My dad was similar. In the organisation he worked for promotion beyond a certain level meant becoming a manager.
      He told them that he would not accept a role in management, because he would hate it and be terrible at it, and would leave if they tried to force him into a role of that kind.
      They didn’t want to lose him , so they created kind of ‘internal consultant’ position for him because he didn’t fit into their structure.

      1. Elfie*

        My dad was also similar, except in his case they didn’t create the ‘internal consultant’ position. He left. He enjoyed his individual contributor status elsewhere until retirement.

  10. Luke*

    We can pin this down to several issues, but here’s two that come to mind.

    One is organizational need .In many companies the spots to be filled outnumber the available number of qualified managers. Since open management slots burden other employees with procedural tasks such as timecard approvals and vacation requests , there’s a heavy incentive to fill an opening ASAP, and often with a candidate who’s not ideal but at least can fulfill the basic requirements.

    Which leads to the second part; in many companies “managing” is defined as the procedural tasks of running a team, full stop. Being a “manager” thus has nothing to do with mentoring or developing employees , but consists of signing various forms as a supervisor and acting as a taskmaster when necessary. There are a lot of capable managers who are condemned to fail because their organization not only hasn’t taught them how to inspire and develop people , but their organization has no idea that cornerstone of effective management even exists. A well adjusted person will seek training or counsel on fixing this skills gap. A person under pressure to perform immediately will resort to toxic motivational techniques for lack of knowing any better.

  11. innit*

    There are no good managers at my company. They’re either too new or not well trained. Having been managed by a couple of them, I’ve seen it in action on both ends of the spectrum: the one who just has no idea how to manage and therefore barely does, and the one who micromanages. I don’t feel like I learn anything from the managers where I work, which is sad. I want to feel inspired and led well and that I can develop. But I don’t. Hence looking for a new job.

  12. LavaLamp*

    My boyfriend and I were having this conversation just the other day. He ended up leaving a place he loved to accept training at a different workplace because he wants to manage right. So far he seems to be doing okay.

    Even if you’re not going to train managers on the basics at least tell them what’s illegal. I had to be the one to break it to my boss a few years ago that she was doing Major Illegal Thing.

    1. Hola!*

      I’ve been a manager where I’ve said “My staff have been working in an illegal situation and I’m going to remedy it,” and been denied permission to do so.

  13. ThankYouRoman*

    Lord help my soul…they do hire accountants with no training and credentials. I’ve cleaned up after those nightmares.

    But for real, training is so vital, I dream of a world where everyone has proper tools to work with.

    After all that, I’ve never been trained by anyone outside of job specifics for a few positions. I’ve started only recently getting a chance to experience professional development options that aren’t courtesy of Google and Street Smarts U.

  14. Cat wrangler*

    I had a manager a couple of years ago who liked to set staff against each other and publicly shame staff for not completing tasks they weren’t aware of or finishing them to their (unstated) targets. It wasn’t just them though as the whole organisation was pretty toxic – if you had an email trail with someone, the amount of people copied in was amazing. I was astounded at my next job when people actually were nice to each other, even when things went wrong.

    1. Doctor Schmoctor*

      “Unstated targets” I hate this! My ex boss did this. He would give me a task, without telling me exactly HOW he wanted it done. When I hand it to him for review, after doing it the way I’ve done it a hundred times before, he would be soooo disappointed, because it’s not how HE wants it. Then he explains it in detail (as if I’m a moron) Then I do it exactly according to his instructions, but I have to magically know that he changed his mind, and actually he wants me to do it like THAT.

    2. Leela*

      Ugh I had a manager who did this! She’d give you something that seemed straightforward (so you wouldn’t think to ask further because nothing was confusing). Then afterward whoever it was actually for would be upset, and she’d TOTALLY leave me holding the bag, publicly claiming that she’d told me what they wanted, then bringing me into her office and giving me a nasty scolding as I was like “you…you REALLY did not tell me any of this.” And she’d claim she did. I started demanding we have an electronic trail and when it happened the next time and I was able to point to the instructions she gave me and where the discrepancy was, she got really angry and quiet and ended the meeting, then refused to ever leave a trail for anything ever again.

    3. Tysons in Boston*

      I witnessed this at a previous job. Unfortunately said manager was the CEO’s favorite so bringing his less than productive management style to the attention of the powers that be accomplished nothing. And of course the manager never believe that he could EVER be in the wrong.

      I had another manager who just wasn’t good. Early on in my working days, I learned not to respect the manager’s whose style was “Do as I say, not as I do.”

  15. Lena Clare*

    Yes! We just had this conversation in work.

    Alison, can you recommend reputable online centres where you can study management, or know of any training that is available in the UK? Thank you.

    1. Canadian Public Servant*

      I’d highly recommend the Manager Tools podcast series! Free, huge numbers of topics, and very very helpful when I started managing. I tend to rely on Alison and Captain Awkward to help me figure how to say stuff, and Manager Tools to help me determine how to do stuff. But there’s a lot of overlap in both directions.

      1. Canadian Public Servant*

        Of course, that assumes you aren’t seeking a credential, and are comfortable being very self-directed.

        1. Lena Clare*

          I was wondering if there was anything along the lines of ‘official’ I could take, yes, but your recommendation is really helpful, and I particularly like podcasts. Thanks so much!

      2. BeenThereOG*

        Thank you for the recommmendation! It looks like there is a basics series which I’ve gone and downloaded the entirety of.

    2. Adereterial*

      I did management and leadership training with the Chartered Management Institute – it was theoretical, but worth doing.

  16. Cordoba*

    I contend that manager/leader is a discrete skill set just like engineering or accounting, and should be treated as a profession all its own and probably available as a major in college.

    Sure, there are people who are natural leaders just like some people are natural engineers; but even people who have a strong inherent aptitude for a subject can benefit from formal training and instruction.

    My brother went to West Point and spent 10 years in the Army. His undergrad degree is in sociology, but in practical terms he is a professional general-purpose leader. He now works as a manager a tech company despite not having *any* technical skills. His job is to make sure his team of tech people have clear goals, suitable support, and the development opportunities they need to stay happy and productive. I expect he’s much better at it than somebody would be if they were just promoted into that role because they excelled at tech stuff.

    1. TechWorker*

      I think this just really depends on the company structure though – where I work the people who manage projects are the same people who manage people. (Some of them amazingly, others less so). A lot of what your manager does is technical leadership, as well as helping you with difficult problems and doing the HR side of things. There’s no way someone who didn’t come through as an engineer could do that role effectively. (And I don’t think there’s a clear enough split between ‘management issue’ and ‘technical issue’ such that these could be two separate people).

    2. Argh!*

      At the very least, the person should be a people-person. My manager is a withdrawn misanthrope. Sometimes she overcomes her cynicism to say something happy that her boss wants her to say, but it’s not a normal circumstance. She barely even changes the tone of her voice. I have no idea how she stumbled into her position, but she seems to really believe everything she says and does is great. I have even asked her for advice on a book or blog to read about management (I’m also a manager) and she had no recommendations at all. (That’s how I wound up here)

      Considering how expensive turnover is, you’d think management training would be a high priority.

      1. LQ*

        I strongly disagree that managers should always be people-people. They should work and strive to be good at human interaction. But if you only ever promote people-people you miss out on a ton of diversity of thought at higher organizational levels. I am not a people-person, but I work really hard at compensating to work well with people even though it isn’t really where I lie naturally and I don’t think that my voice should be silenced because it’s not where I am naturally. Now if I fail the task (which it sounds like your manager tremendously is!) then get rid of me. But managing people is actually a task that you can break down into bites and work through if you aren’t a people-person but just a person.

        1. Argh!*

          You have to at least like people in general to be a good boss. Insincerity is demoralizing because you never know why you’re being lied to or why your boss is pretending to be happy to see you. (Mine doesn’t even pretend, actually)

          You can be an introvert and be a good manager, but if you’re not a people person why be a manager at all? Management is a people job.

          1. Adereterial*

            I’d disagree. I’m a dyed in the wool introvert and I really don’t like ‘people’ in general. As a group, people suck. I’m not a ‘people’ person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t form effective and warm relationships with individuals, including those I manage. I manage well – the feedback and performance I get is clear on that – it’s not difficult to treat people fairly and in the same way I’d want to be treated. There is no way to progress in my field without taking on some form of line management responsibility for at least a couple of people, progression shouldn’t be denied me just because I’m not a ‘people’ person.

            1. Canadian Public Servant*

              Exact same boat as Adereterial. I’d rather be locked in my office, not talking to anyone, and having everyone do everything my way. I am a very good manager, who cares about my team as individuals and has put a lot of effort in learning to manage effectively. But if I could treat them like robots and get the same level of productivity and engagement and team health, I’d go for that in a heartbeat.

  17. Abigael*

    I’m sure this is a problem across all fields, but it definitely runs rampant in education. I am on the verge of completely leaving my education career because of atrocious management I’ve experienced at three separate schools. Do you think there are some fields that naturally have better or worse management than others, due to the nature of the work?

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      From only hearsay and the years of internet horror stories, it’s across the board. I’ve never known any industry with better than average management. There are a million variables involved, boiling down to humans who aren’t natural leaders landing in leadership roles whimsically.

    2. amanda*

      I know for me (in the Special Ed department) the people in charge were never taught how to be in charge. They learned how do differentiate instruction, how to create a sensory diet, how to write an IEP, how to create a BIP, etc… but no one taught them how to manage their aides or work collaboratively with other specialists. And of course, there is no time to learn this skill, as you would probably have to get training that involved time watching other teachers in action (which would mean the district would have to find a substitute teacher for you and also pay you to observe… not gonna happen, at least in my district). This is incredibly hard on a teacher level, so when a senior teacher then gets promoted to curriculum coordinator, vice principal, or some other admin position there is no guarantee that they have ever had success working collaboratively or managing other people.

    3. Effective Immediately*

      Thus far, out of the 3-ish different fields I’ve managed in, nonprofits take the cake. There is a serious aversion to setting expectations and holding people accountable that hasn’t existed in any for-profit industries I’ve worked in.

      There is also a tendency to think ‘friends with donors’ equates to ‘put them in leadership’ and it makes for a very dysfunctional management structure overall.

  18. feministbookworm*

    Alison, (or commenters) do you have suggestions for how to negotiate this kind of training or support for yourself as a new or soon-t0-be manager? This is extremely relevant to my current situation, where I’ve just accepted a new job that doesn’t currently have direct reports, but the long-term plan is that I’d be building a team that I would manage. I mentioned as part of the hiring/negotiation process that I would want training or some kind of professional support in that area, and my new boss agreed in the abstract.

    1. fposte*

      I’d say read the archives here, get Alison’s book, and look at the Management Center’s stuff (some of which is Alison’s).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! And the Management Center does a really well-received two-day training that’s largely based on the management book I co-authored with their CEO.

          1. Sleepyinseattle*

            We did this training as a organization wide training thanks to a really wonderful grantor and it was so, so helpful. To do it with all managers makes sure you have a shared language and shared expectations. It was great.

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        The AMA archives are what got me through my time as a manager, knowing that what I was doing was sane and reasonable.

      3. feministbookworm*

        I’m for sure planning to rely on the archives, and one of the first things I did when I got the job offer was order Alison’s and Jerry Hauser’s book on nonprofit management. I’m particularly interested, though, in if there are things I should be asking for as part of ongoing institutional support from my boss (for example, the idea of a manager ‘mentor’ that Alison brought up in the radio segment, or a particular level of training budget, or something else? I am probably getting ahead of myself, but what can I say, I’m an over-preparer…)

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      Have them give you a budget! Say you’ve got $2500 a year to invest in training. This can be books, seminars or a subscription to a platform that gives you access to experts.

      I go to seminars that come through town every few months for essentials. A lot of it is hokey but I’ve gotten plenty of nuggets out of each one. They are only $150 a pop or a subscription for a year is 299. It’s not huge but it’s been great to help build my personal knowledge tool box.

  19. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Has anyone ever received *good* manager training? I remember when I became a manager, our in house trainer from HR did some manager training with me and a few other people, but it seemed very useless with its “people have different personalities!” level of sophistication. The kicker was that the stuff that was useful (e.g. basically suggestions to approach people with empathy and common sense) was stuff that my own (terrible) boss would never have allowed me to do as a manger for my own staff, so it made the whole exercise kind of pointless.

    1. Argh!*

      I wish someone would tell my manager that people have different personalities!

      Well, she knows that… but she seems to think anyone who is not a mirror image of herself is a horrible human being.

    2. media monkey*

      we have great manager training – i wish i had had it years ago. it is about understanding the difference between coaching and mentoring and when each is appropriate, understanding different personality types and how to deal with them differently, how to listen properly, loads of useful stuff. the company are called different dynamics (based in Uk/ Europe tho).

    3. Tysons in Boston*

      One place I worked did try.
      It was a four day course. Not the entire day. Someone was brought in house and the training was half-a-day, so people would still feel that they were able to get some work done.
      The main thing that the said, along with the catch all “people are different. Different things work for different people, etc.” was that a good manager communicates. That means not just giving clear instructions and goals, but listens to those who report to him or her. Communication is a two way street.

  20. NextSteps*

    Is the question of management’s training an issue we could ever ask about at a job interview? How might we find out about the organization’s culture?

    1. irene adler*

      Might ask about the professional background of the person you will be reporting to.

      And, might ask about what enrichment opportunities do they provide for employees? Then ask for some details. Anything specific towards managing or is it strictly trade skills training ?

  21. Kitty*

    Oh God, yes. Our current manager was promoted from our team, and she was good at the job we’re doing, but doesn’t have any management training and in my opinion not great people or conflict management skills. It’s frustrating.

  22. Close Bracket*

    One of the biggest problems is people don’t think they need any additional training to be managers. Not only do the people doing the promotions think, “Jane is an excellent project person; we should promote her to manager,” but Jane also thinks, “I’m an excellent project person; I’ll be great at this manager thing.”

    1. irene adler*

      And I bet they pat themselves on their backs when they think this too. “Look at all the money we’re saving the company by simply promoting Jane instead of hiring someone whose expertise is managing people.”

      This was me. I dove into the management courses at my local community college because I knew I did NOT know how to manage people.

  23. Lulubell*

    All the yesses. I am naturally a great project manager, and just as naturally, a poor person manager. I’m much better now in the latter, but it did not come naturally to me, and I have really committed myself to becoming better at it. Outside of all of Allison’s great advice, the biggest help for me came from personal development resources – Brene Brown, specifically, has some really insightful lessons; plus going to to therapy and learning how to tolerate discomfort and have hard but honest conversations (something I was not brought up with) has really made a world of difference. I’ve also always been a bit of a people pleaser, which served me very well in non-manager/project manager roles. I’ve really needed to let go of that to be an effective people manager – I just can’t worry all the time that I might disappoint someone. That has been challenging but extremely freeing!

    1. Canadian Public Servant*

      That’s awesome, Lulubell. Agreed that becoming a manager forced me to deal with some of my baggage. I alternated between people pleaser who could never admit to a negative emotion and going nuclear once my tipping point was reached (so much stuff from childhood behind that!), and have a much healthier approach to disagreement and dissapointment now.

  24. ThursdaysGeek*

    My spouse works at a place that has bad managers. I contend, if your manager is bad, then their manager is bad for allowing it. One form of bad management is called “Seagull Management”, and in his case, it was seagulls all the way up.

    His entire management chain has since been replaced, some by attrition or retirement, but enough so that the remaining seagulls were also replaced.

  25. Argh!*

    At my first job, everyone had to go through a management “course” (several sessions) before being eligible to apply for a promotion. In all of my jobs since then the training has been haphazard and random. My current boss has been a supervisor for 20 years and she has done some things that make me shake my head. I don’t know how someone could be in the job that long and still be clueless about so many things, but especially human psychology. Just completely tone deaf.

  26. Not So NewReader*

    I’d add one more: companies can’t start training managers because then these people would figure out and be able to articulate specifically how bad their own bosses are.
    Well, if one objection is cost then that at least is consistent with other things we see, not training front line workers, not giving people the proper equipment to do the job and so on.
    I have seen the use of “charm school” to help a manager learn to keep their cool. But this is a reactive measure, wait until things get bad then send them to get skills. What’s necessary are proactive measures. Do something before there is a problem.

    I am still amazed that companies do not see how a toxic boss can drive up health care costs and contribute to safety issues. There are still dinosaurs, er, managers out there that sincerely believe angry people work harder. It may appear that way, but angry people also make more mistakes (accidentally or deliberately) and are more prone to injury because of lack of concentration on the work itself. I have seen the differences first hand. I have also seen where toxic bosses inspire subordinates to call OSHA and other government agencies.

    It’s not much different than any other cultural change we have seen in our country. The way to get change is to KEEP talking about it. Keep talking about the fact that there are too many bad bosses out there. I am not so secretly hoping that with all this open conversation about harassment/bullying and blatant sexual abuse, the conversation door will open to other types of problems, such as toxic bosses.

  27. marmaladeskies*

    In my experience, many (perhaps most) bad-to-mediocre managers have no idea that they’re doing a subpar job. A lot of managers are bad at their jobs in a low-key, benign way, such that I honestly think that most of them don’t realise their deficiencies.

    Most of my bad managers have fallen into this “benignly poor performer” category (though I’ve had one that was actively terrible too – but that’s another story). They were people who weren’t really good at the people side of managing OR the workload organisation part, but because they were a nice person who saw themselves as “good with people” (in the everyday sense of being warm, friendly, good at listening, etc), I think they genuinely thought that they were good at their jobs. But that just wasn’t the case, because the requisite skillset for a manager goes WAY beyond that.
    Some of their characteristics:
    – having meetings more to feel like there was communication than to actually achieve anything (nothing was ever actioned or followed up)
    – not dealing with poor performance
    – not directing, or even really understanding, the team’s work programme
    – not giving specific/actionable feedback
    – not really giving feedback at all beyond vague praise
    – little effort to support their staff’s professional development (I’m talking about professional jobs where career-building would be entirely appropriate)
    – communicating expectations clearly
    – not considering team fit in hiring. This would never even have occurred for a manager or two I’ve worked for.

    A good manager really is worth their weight in gold, but they’re rarer than they should be.

    1. Effective Immediately*

      This is an awesome breakdown and absolutely tracks with what I’ve seen from the Peter Principled set.

      I just want to add that I think part of the reason good managers are so thin on the ground is also that they so often get burnt out. Direct staff management, especially a large staff, is *exhausting*–there’s only one of you, and so many of them, and especially if you’re managing a productivity based role (where you need people present to complete a task, and it can’t wait or be moved around), the logistical piece coupled with the urgency grinds you down quickly. Bad managers can stay afloat in those roles because often they’re not–by definition–doing/trying to do everything they can to manage well, while good managers will burn out trying to juggle the performance management and logistical pieces equally and appropriately

  28. Greg M.*

    I work for Staples, they seem to have a decent mentoring program for getting into the manager track. I don’t know all the details as I’ve not really looked into it but I’ve seen us have multiple managers in training come to our store for about a month to be trained and then assigned a store.

    1. Greg M.*

      like I assume they have other corresponding experience but they are at least given hands on training from other managers.

  29. Database Developer Dude*

    You know what else is true about this? Teachers. Just knowing your subject inside and out doesn’t make you a good teacher. And that’s part of what a manager is supposed to be.

    My taekwondo master is a GREAT taekwondo master. He’s a horrible teacher, though, and it drives me batty.

  30. Darla*

    I will say that military training does not automatically equal good managerial skills. I’m currently on my second former or reserves military manager, and they both have similar deficits: they privilege military coworkers (who are all male), have difficulty dealing with women as subordinates or peers, have difficulty dealing with upper level women in the same chain of command, not good at seeing the bigger picture/planning ahead, and not good at teaching people how to do things (they are both in roles where they have technical knowledge that they should be sharing with new employees). It’s really quite demoralizing. I’d say of my peers, it’s about 50/50 whether the military guys (all men) are good at the managing that’s appropriate to their level of authority . Interestingly, senior leadership has a lot of former military guys, and they’re all pretty good at their jobs – fair, able to deal with people of differing backgrounds, no issue with women, etc. So maybe there’s hope for my managers?

  31. Big Biscuit*

    I’ve managed people for over 30 years now. It has it’s ups and downs. I guess what I’ve learned is listen, be fair, train, be accountable and hold others accountable. In my business at the end of the day, it’s not life and death, so keep things in perspective.

  32. Bulbasaur*

    I had to laugh at the taxonomy of bad managers.

    It really does come down to valuing management as a skill. I think one of the best arguments I’ve heard for doing that was expressed by a trainer I once had as “People don’t usually outperform their managers.”

  33. Karyn*

    I used to work at a residential treatment programs for adolescents. Talented and effective floor staff were sometimes promoted to be shift supervisors, but never trained on how to supervise. I was not a great employee at that time, but I was not guided well. I found myself sitting in HR with one guy who said that his managing philosophy was to give people plenty of rope, until it was time to yank it back in.

    That place was toxic, and it was no surprise to learn years later that the owners were skimming and underpaying their taxes.

  34. amanda*

    I work in Special Education, and one of the most difficult things about my job has been learning how to manage my Aides. Depending on the needs of my students, I have been in charge of 3-6 Aides each year as well as my students with severe disabilities. I learned how to teach this type of student in college, I learned how to fill out the (mountains of) paperwork associated with students with disabilities, but somehow there was never a course on managing your staff!

    Of course, I don’t have any authority over them. Only the Principals do. But nonetheless I’m supposed to create their schedules, hold meetings with them, provide them with on-the-job training, deal with personality conflicts (and 7 women in 1 room can have many conflicts!) etc. Luckily I have a great team now and we mostly get along, but it took 5 years before we got the right people in positions and I learned how to handle those people.

    There are lots of things I expected to be hard about this job. Being a manager was one that I somehow missed!

  35. JulieCanCan*

    While in college I worked 30-35 hours a week at an answering service. It was a great job that payed well and allowed me to study when it was slow. I enjoyed it very much – the only bad part that was the management. They had a “mean girls”attitude towards certain people and it was tough to watch. It was also crappy because the good employees would quit because managers would bully them due to these bad managers seeing the good employees as a threat instead of appreciating the hard-working and dedicated people these employees were.

    ANYWAY, the owner got fed up and fired the manager of the shift I normally worked, and he decided to make me a manager. I don’t remember having much of a choice, but I was kind of honored and/or humbled and also excited because it paid more and I figured I’d just be doing the same work with a bit more authority. The only problem was I had to work minimum 40 hours a week and it involved a lot more than the job of just answering phones and then simply leaving at the end of my shift. Having to be involved with scheduling and all the B.S. that goes into managing [emotionally immature over 30-year old] people was NOT what I wanted to be doing as a college student at 19. It went from a job that I looked forward to going to every day to a job that I dreaded and was completely overwhelmed with because I had school full-time and at 19 didn’t have the ability, desire or tools to be managing 30-40 year-olds who were resentful of me for being promoted – I later realized many of them wanted the manager job (but were crappy employees). It sucked. I’m embarrassed to admit this but I actually fired someone over the phone because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want him to drive all the way to work knowing he had a pretty long commute, and he was older than my father and I just felt so sorry for him. I know that is awful- and such a wrong way to handle firing – but this poor guy could not do the job after two months…..he was completely incompetent and it was obvious he wasn’t going to improve, he was causing more problems than we had time to fix…it was really bad – we lost so many clients because of him. I woke up in a panic in the middle of the night obsessing about the situation. OMG it was horrible. *I* was horrible!

    I ended up asking the owner of the company if I could go back to just working my former shift answering phones but he wouldn’t let me, he was pissed off at me because he didn’t want to deal with finding another person he could trust to manage? so instead he said “no sorry, it’s Manage or nothing” and I think he assumed I would stick with it but I couldn’t handle it with school and everything else I had going on. So I left.

    This long rambling comment is basically to agree that because you’re a good, trustworthy, strong employee it does not mean that you have the skills, ability, or desire to be a manager. Often it’s considered a promotion, but I think a lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to be a good manager. The good managers make it appear easy, but it’s often quite difficult balancing the fine line of keeping your reports happy, properly supervised, etc etc etc AND keeping your organization satisfied. Plus many companies wrongly assume you can manage people while keeping up with the same volume of work that you handled prior to being a manager. Ugh! So, if there are people who can handle a huge workload along with managing a bunch of reports then my hat goes off to them, because it can be really tough!

    Sorry for the novel-length comment but I feel strongly about the whole “Sally is a great tax accountant! Let’s make her a manager of the tax accountants because we need a new manager.” Meanwhile Sally has no management training and probably has no desire to manage, but saying no to what looks like a promotion on paper will not go over well with the company heads.

    The End (FINALLY!!) ; )

    1. Brussels manager*

      Just wanted to thank you for sharing. I am a manager and love it, but a few things you said really resonated with me. It is tougher than it looks and it is NOT a promotion if it’s not something you want to do.

      Thanks again

  36. ceiswyn*

    One place I worked, when my ex-boss left I was promoted to managing my junior – where there were already concerns about his work (which I fear my ex-boss’s approach had not helped with) that I was expected to monitor and manage.

    The sum total of my management training was a couple of minutes of ‘here’s the manager view of the system, here’s how you approve holiday’.

    I don’t think any amount of management training would have rescued the situation, but I did feel a bit left to flounder…

  37. Bookworm*

    To answer the “why:” It also somewhat doesn’t help when people strike out on their own and start a new business. I’ve had bad experiences with people who decided to start their own company and/or went and bought out a business. They fell into the trap of believing that having money or being able to start the business on their own meant they knew how to manage/run the business and the employees. Not so much.

    I liked the independent aspect of it but it also meant I had to manage “up,” which wasn’t part of the job!

    Career development (management or not!) is something that seems to have been forgotten.

  38. Wrench Turner*

    I was counter sales and warehouse help for a year at an industry-specific store and did a real good job. With just the manager and I the store had record sales and constantly high feedback. Way higher up managers kept saying I should be running my own store and I always laughed. No no no no no. I’m way happier driving a forklift.

  39. Project Manager*

    My org does a ton of management/leadership training. My take on it after several years of being a (non-supervisory) leader is that while certain techniques and approaches of leadership can be taught, at the end of the day, if you are going somewhere and no one’s following you, you’re not a leader. And that whatever-it-is that makes people follow you is binary – you’ve either got it or you don’t. I have it, which is weird for me because I am decidedly not a people person, but since people are going to follow me whether I want them to or not, I’m determined to do my absolute best for them.

    So I’ve done whatever training I could find that looked useful. I’m pleased to report that the last time I had my followers provide feedback for me, one of them described me as “approachable”, which shows I am improving. (My officemate/unofficial mentor once told me that my team members felt like Gru going to see Mr. Perkins when they came in my office.)

    1. Elfie*

      Ha! Yes, if you’re ‘leading’ but no-one is following, you’re just out for a walk!

      I’m currently line managing one (ONE!) graduate who’s with me for a six month placement. I’ve managed contractors before (task-management, not really people-management), and one other grad before, but I’m not that great at it. I’ve not been given any training, but I do have an awesome manager myself, so I try and model myself on her. However, due to the nature of the work that I do, it’s really difficult to come up with tasks that this guy can do in the remainder of his time with us (4 months now), that will be beneficial to us as a team, to projects that he’s working on, and will give him the development opportunities that his grad programme wants us to provide. And that’s just one poor guy! This managing stuff is hard, and since I’ve dipped my toes in it, I have a lot more appreciation for my past bosses than I did before, because I doubt any of them had training either!

  40. Anoncorporate*

    I KNOW. I have always wondered this…along with the meaning of life and other things..

    I also wonder if managers should be considered a functional position without putting them higher on a hierarchy. A lot of managers I have seen have god complexes because they technically have authority, even if they suck at what they do.

  41. People like shiny things*

    So ready for this. I was promoted out of my experience level, and was supposed to have support to develop the role, but then they unexpectedly fired my manager. I was left to twist in the wind with an undefined role and more HR responsibility than I could handle. I was “laterally” moved to an office manager position, out of a people manager position. It was rough, but I rode it out and am happy again at work. Now I was just approached to take on a modified group of my previous responsibilities. And I’m torn. I’m mid-negotiation and looking for a lot of clarity on my responsibilities before I accept. But have I really learned enough to succeed? Or am I going back to being over my head? Now at least we have a real HR specialist for support. I have a lot of thinking to do, and training I’ll need to get myself off I decide the money is worth the trouble.

  42. BurnOutCandidate*

    My company is reticent to train at all, and I’m shocked sometimes at how little people I work with know how to use the Microsoft Office suite beyond the bare minimum (“Here’s something I typed,” “Here’s a spreadsheet I made”). I am frequently sent documents to format so they line up with InDesign so our design department can use them or spreadsheets to do basic things (sort, compare against another spreadsheet, even remove borders) because I came to the company knowing how to do these things, while my colleagues and supervisors never, ever knew how to do them. It’s baffling that the company won’t invest in Office training, and the knowledge gap is frustrating to deal with.

  43. Effective Immediately*

    *standing ovation*

    I will never not be salty/amazed by the lack of seriousness with which capacity for leadership and focus on managerial skills is treated when promoting/hiring into managerial roles.

    It took me years of working as a manager to hone those skills. The idea that a strong fundraiser should be promoted into leadership because they’re good at fundraising really rankles.

  44. DaniCalifornia*

    I had to laugh at hiring an accountant that doesn’t know bookkeeping because I work for a CPA firm with several accountants that do not do bookkeeping and have never. I know they understand the concept but I was kind of shocked that they couldn’t do it if asked. But I guess that’s what I’m here for…to do the bookkeeping! Because I know nothing of tax law and such.

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