why don’t we do a better job of training managers?

Why don’t we do a better job of training managers?

How effectively a team is managed has a huge impact on what results it achieves … so it’s bizarre that we routinely throw people into management roles without any training whatsoever or with training that’s woefully insufficient.

At Slate today, I wrote about why it’s so common for managers to be untrained, what that means for the people under them, and what companies should be doing differently. You can read it here.

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. The Person from the Resume*

    I find this so interesting because the military consciously trains leaders at all levels.

    And the federal goverment (at least my agency) requires a supervisor get special supervisory training before becoming a people manager. Certain positions are supervisory positions and others are not.

    It seems so problematic in the civilian sector not to train people. People management feels like a lot of common sense but I was eased into and got training as I rose in rank. I am sure I would have been terrible right out of college though.

    1. goducks*

      The civilian sector is bad about training people for any job, not just management. There’s a sort of expectation that either education or experience means you can walk into a role and just do it. That can be true, but often is just not.

      1. Dawn*

        Well, I think that’s also because in the civilian sector – at least, in the American civilian sector – most companies have no real loyalty to their employees, so they can just throw people at the wall until one of them sticks and replace them when they don’t.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Short term thinking. Training employees is a long term investment that won’t show up on this quarter’s report. And employee churn is assumed, so why train your competitor’s future manager?

          1. Dawn*

            Modern capitalism is all about short-term thinking though. You make as much money as you possibly can in the moment because the shareholders only care about increasing their share value to sell it again.

      2. TootsNYC*

        actually, I think employers think you can train on the job, either from your peers or from your own managers.

        My company uses InDesign and InCopy, and there is NO formal training for someone who starts working with us.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Back in the day, you had to have ten years’ experience on a program only five years old, and make sure you’re no older than 25 (plus willing to work for minimum wage, part time and no benefits).

        2. Mongrel*

          “actually, I think employers think you can train on the job, either from your peers or from your own managers”

          Often with the attitude of ‘Well that’s how I learned and I did alright’

    2. Smithy*

      I personally agree with a lot of the takes tied to the “McKinsey broke the work world” arguments around this one. Essentially, in the efforts to “maximize efficiency” and all of that consulting whatnot, so many of the positions removed are the “middle managers who do nothing”.

      However, in taking those roles away, I think so much of what has been lost is that most people do not learn how to do most things at work by taking a course alone – but through a mix of those “classroom” trainings alongside doing a job with increasing responsibility and decreased supervision. And so instead of slowly promoting people through middle management ranks, those deputy manager, associate director type roles disappeared, and more and more duties got piled onto people into supervisory roles. So, there’s a larger workload (to prove you deserve that job to begin with and it shouldn’t be removed to maximize efficiency), and an expectation you show up ready to supervise on day 1.

      It’s also contributed to so much job hoping because at Employer A, they don’t believe you’re ready to manage your team but there’s also no where else to go. So you show your years of experience in your subject matter to Employer B, who’s less familiar with all of your assorted soft skills and will take you on with little to no supervisory experience. You start as a supervisor at Employer B, and you’re in a position to learn a whole new employer, your individual contributor tasks, and then also how to supervise at all or a larger team for the first time ever. And shockingly this system isn’t producing amazing supervisors.

      1. Spearmint*

        I get what you’re saying, but having worked my whole career in large, bureaucratic organizations with many, many layers of management (both public and private sector), I am sympathetic to the McKinsey folks on this. So often it really wasn’t clear what these middle managers even did beside show up to meetings. And it led to so much inefficiency, like having to get approvals from multiple levels of management to do basic things, or having 15 people show up to a meeting and its not clear why half of them are even there.

        It also creates a culture where people have to move into management to move up. Plus it leads to lots of “empire building”, fighting over turf, and resistance to change.

        I can believe it has gone too far in some places, but there are also many, many places with too much management and bureaucracy even today.

        1. Smithy*

          While certainly there have been large companies that overhire to then have people do nothing – a situation seen at Meta – my sympathy for this approach to fixing processes drops off significantly in that the focus on efficiency is rarely if ever holistic. That these processes view the removal of positions as a pathway to efficiency, and never view training supervisors as part of that.

          This also leads to an increased emphasis on teams with hard KPI’s best positioned to keep large staff and soft skilled teams stressed to find ways to develop more and more metrics to validate their work. So where positions are cut and where teams are kept bloated (aka empire building and turf fighting) doesn’t end, it just changes.

        2. Cobol*

          I’ve noticed – and not at all saying this is you – that a lot of the “x doesn’t do anything,” really is more “I don’t understand what x does.” I’ve noticed this is especially common with builders looking to non-builders (e.g. software developers looking at marketing or HR.)

          As for your point, I’ve worked with both Intel and Microsoft, both of whom had a lot of middle managers, and who for the most part did the same thing and had the same approach. Microsoft had good middle managers who had needed responsibilities, that were clearly aligned with the business flow, and Intel, well they didn’t. The result was great middle managers who disagreed, but made things better at Microsoft, and a lot of infighting and work churn at Intel.

          I haven’t worked with either in more than 10 years, but not surprised at the direction both are going.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I’ve also heard “x doesn’t do anything” mean “I do not value what x does.”

        3. Also-ADHD*

          If the goal is to have levels, senior IC roles and lead roles are important more so than “Middle management” that’s in meetings—what companies often need are lead roles (which make lead salaries and yet have reasonable workloads, or else you’ll not get good folks in them) that can support peers for part of their time but also do the work and remain close to the work in a way management doesn’t. And many places do this, but many others find it a “waste of money” to pay leads what they should be paid or they’ll do that in certain technical fields but not others.,

      2. Alternative Person*

        It was McKinsey all along!

        But yeah, my field has been in going on a downward spiral of trimming everything, including the management structure and its created lots of problems.

        For all that some middle management is considered inefficient, corporate bigwigs are ignoring the value of someone just high enough to deal with the ongoing running of a department and just the department. Instead there’s a lot of irritated individual contributors with very few avenues to move up and a lot of senior level titles constantly dividing their attention between essentially two jobs.

    3. Texan In Exile*

      My dad was an air force officer. I told him when I was a teenager that he was the boss and his people had to do what he said and he answered that a good leader makes people want to follow.

      1. Johanna Cabal*

        I’ve heard that when things can run smoothly in the absence of a leader, that’s a sign of good leadership.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Eh. Sometimes. I worked in a unit where things went more smoothly when the manager wasn’t there, because she caused so many problems

          If someone thrives on “putting out fires,” suspect arson.

          1. Heffalump*

            At a small printing and typesetting business where I worked ca. 1978, we used to say, only half-jokingly, that the business would have run more smoothly if the owner and the bookkeeper would just draw salary and stay away.

      2. Autumn*

        I’ve noticed over my career that the managers I’ve respected the most, and usually liked, had been in the military. The only one I wasn’t thrilled with, it wasn’t about leadership. (Or maybe it was, I’m not entirely sure. Let’s just say we had a fundamental disagreement and I’m not sure I should have caught on that there even was a disagreement.)

        One big thing I’ve always hated is getting dinged for lack of leadership skills when nobody ever taught me any. There was never a chance to exercise any either. You can’t have it both ways.

    4. Cobol*

      Other than being built around killing people, the military is actually pretty admirable as an organization. Yes it’s (too) authoritarian, although it’s very easy to make a compelling argument that is necessary. There is a unifying mission, but the understanding that there are valid differing ways to achieve that mission. Goals are specific and spelled out, but still flexibility and creativity are rewarded. Training is top notch, and there’s a pervasive understanding that explores are people who need outside of work needs meet as well. Promotions are based for the most part on merit, and respect is engrained (up and down) throughout.

      1. Angstrom*

        Fun note — each service has a professional reading list, accessible online. It’s interesting to see what they recommend for their members to read, enlisted to senior officers.

    5. Random Gov’t Grunt*

      This is fascinating to me because I work in municipal government and its very hit or miss. Some positions definitely train you up for that managerial position, but some departments just don’t. Heck, the last person in charge of my position hated managing, knew she was bad, asked for training but was never given it because there wasn’t time!

      1. Kali*

        Another municipal employee here, and same. I’ve had some terrible, terrible managers. My department doesn’t deal with them – they get shuffled around to positions where they can do the least amount of damage or into the positions that might stress them out enough to quit/retire (which is super fun for their subordinates! ask me how I know). I’ve had some decent managers too, but the system here is so toxic that they’re often forced to be in lock-step with the terrible decisions from above them.

        The irony is that the people I think would make the best managers refuse to promote because of this environment. So instead, we get a lot of the starry eyed ones that think they can change the system, as well as the bullies. Personally, I’m just here to survive until I hit my minimum retirement age and then I’m going to get a job somewhere far, far away from government.

        1. Random Gov’t Grunt*

          Oh jeez! We’ve recently had a ton of turn-over of department directors, so at this point we’re trying to just keep from sinking, but at least one department head refuses to get the director title simply because of the issues he thinks it could cause!
          Here’s hoping for you! My current manager is great, but she came in with outside experience.

    6. Drago Cucina*

      I agree with this. I didn’t realize how many of my managerial skills came from my time in the Army. Everything from customer service to learning to apologize for my mistakes to the people I supervise. Always, always train up. Now as a federal employee, it’s the same.

      I’ve complained about the lack of real mentorship in library world for two decades. I’ve tried to empower and always be preparing my successors.

      1. Artemesia*

        COVID and the WFH movement has shown a bright line on how crappy management is. The most basic element of managing is knowing what your reports need to produce and then keeping track of it and providing feedback and coaching when necessary. Few managers have a clear idea of what their subordinates should produce and how to measure it.

        When I was a professor running complex research projects with data sites across the country my luckiest hire was a grad student who had been a sgt in the military. Without her I am not sure we would have had the success we did. She knew how to get it done.

      2. datamuse*

        Oh god, it’s so bad in libraries. When I got into the profession almost twenty years ago I went to a discussion group at an ALA conference where among other topics they brought up the lack of people who want to be directors. I was new to the field so didn’t have much to say but one thing I heard a lot from more experienced librarians was a serious dearth of leadership development.

        Fast-forward a couple of decades and I wound up in an interim director position simply because I’d been there longest and had tenure. Very little in my job up to that point had been geared toward this work. If I’d wanted to make the appointment permanent (that offer was made) I’d have looked into trying to get some development funding from my employer or something but that doesn’t address the problem in the moment, you know?

        I did get some excellent advice from a friend who’d spent years in retail management and HR.

    7. dryakumo*

      I’m glad you felt like you got good leadership training in the military! Not my experience but I’m happy to hear someone got it right somewhere. I always felt like I formed my management/leadership style by observing what I didn’t like about my own leaders and trying to figure out what would have helped me. Taking care of my people and backing them up when they needed it, although that wasn’t appreciated by my boss and it definitely reflected in my performance reviews.

      I’m glad to have recently gotten out of management, but I know that side-step is going to limit me because I’m already close to the top of the title/pay range for individual contributors where I work…

    8. Lora C*

      I never thought about it, but you’re right. The best manager I’ve ever had was former military. And I’ve gone through 7 managers. Half were…kind people, but not the most efficient. The rest were just awful, ranging from abusive to incompetent. Former military boss was just really good at getting everything done.

    9. Alex*

      I thought what Alison said about managers held true for federal agencies too, at least in my agency.

      Plenty of people get promoted to being a manager because they are excellent at their jobs as individual contributors but really lack the people skills you need to be a good manager.

  2. so very tired*

    There’s no training for managers and yet every job expects you to have management experience to be a manager.

    1. Cookie Monster*

      I think the two are connected. They want you to have previous managing experience BECAUSE they know they don’t train for it.

    2. jellied brains*

      Ding ding! I got promoted to a management position and then flamed out because I had zero training or support. (Also being a good project manager =/= good people manager)

      1. zaracat*

        totally agree on that last point. I am quite competent at task-oriented leadership, but got a false sense of my skill set because I was working on time limited projects and with people who had shared goals and happy to work collaborately. I took on a position managing volunteers and completely failed because I wasn’t up to the cat herding required to deal with interpersonal conflict, disagreement over goals etc.

  3. Can't think of a name*

    I am 61 yo and for the first time I have a manager that can manage. He is very strict, to the point, sticks up for me if I am correct and always reminds me he has my back and I can come to him if I need to. Crazy it took so many years!

    1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      I was fortunate. When I first came out of college and started, I had a great manager. He was very good at specifiying goals, etc… and most of all, he protected his people from upper management.

      Example: Manager told me it was OK to buy a software tool (maybe $80 in mid-90’s dollars) on petty cash rather than go through the procurement process because we “needed it now”. Upper management came down hard (I seem to recall there was a new VP of something-or-other who had changed the process and rules). He took the blame, having told them I was working under his instructions.

      I wound up working under the guy for 15 years. He was a joy to work for.

  4. Dawn*

    My company promotes people to management largely based on their sales results, and, hooboy.

    I’m genuinely shocked some days that we’re still the nationally-significant company that we are, but I guess when you let enough people fail upwards, some of them eventually, accidentally prove to be good at managing.

    1. Me (I think)*

      I assume you mean that if they are terrible salespeople, they get promoted to management? Because, you know, you have to keep the great salespeople selling.

      1. Dawn*

        No, the best salespeople get promoted to management, on the theory that they will then train/manage employees to sell better.

        Mostly in practice that means they turn into bullies.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The Office showed this really well. Yes, Michael is a terrible manager. But send him on a sales call and he absolutely shines.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        The Dilbert Principle: The most ineffective workers will be systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage — management.

        1. Dawn*

          I think the big problem is that they’re actually highly effective; the company execs, who are a billion levels above the store management level, have a skewed idea of what will make for effective store-level management.

  5. Bookworm*

    I think it also helps if the manager/would-be manager is actually aware of their problems: looks like some of the people in the Slate piece actually do understand what it entails but I recently had a position where the manager (who was also the owner) was/is in denial about their ability to manage and thinks that undermanaging is “good” managing. I’d LOVE the idea of manager training programs, etc. but in my case I just described this was not an option.

  6. Lilo*

    I know when I was managing people I basically had to go out and get the information I needed on my own. Like tracking down another manager and saying “show me the timesheet system please” during lunch. It was part of why I hated managing so much. I was not given support by those above at all.

    1. jellied brains*

      I had no idea I was supposed to do anything with a time card until the person I was meant to be managing was fired. I don’t clock in so how was I supposed to know they had to?

  7. Cat Tree*

    After working at a variety of companies, I finally landed at one that trains manager to manage. The difference is astonishing. I’ve still had some managers who are sort of mediocre, but none that were outright bad. This, among many other things, is why I plan to stay at this company until I retire.

    1. kiki*

      It’s great that you can speak to the difference in experience it makes!
      One thing I find really frustrating about the endemic refusal to train managers is that a lot of people who are shoddy-to-mediocre managers right now could be good or even excellent with some training! The lack of consistent management training also mean a lot of folks get to management positions without ever having experienced a really good manager. Some folks excel in spite of that, but for most people it’s difficult to be a good manager if you don’t even have the context for what that means.

    2. higheredadmin*

      My first job was at a company that had a huge focus on training you for the next rung up the ladder (e.g. project management, and then people management, and then sales etc.) I am decades along in my career and STILL relying on the project management and management training I received there.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      Let’s also clarify that it needs to be good management training. I’ve worked somewhere that it was a box to check for a lot of people. So, they sat in a classroom for a few hours a week but didn’t need to absorb anything. (And there was no coaching or mentoring program.)

      I currently have a terrible manager who went through the same leadership training I am currently in. (Meant for non managers who might lead teams/projects or eventually become a manager.) As far as I can tell, he learned almost nothing from all these excellent classes that he attended.

  8. hohumdrum*

    As a STEM educator I can tell you it’s very obvious that overall people do not value the “soft skills” of communication, leadership, facilitation, etc. People seem to overwhelmingly believe that content knowledge is all that matters and that any moron can explain concepts to people or get a group to effectively work together, etc. In many fields the most knowledgeable person is considered best management material even when their people skills are atrocious. Obviously this is a broad generalization, but I have seen it play out in several fields, plus kind of shows up here regularly enough when people get testy about any part of their job that isn’t just delivering content and moving on (icebreakers or team building in meetings, how social you have to be with coworkers, etc).

    1. Annika Hansen*

      I have worked for the same employer for over 20 years. They used to promote the person with the most IT skills instead of the person who would actually make a good manager. It worked as well as you expected. For the last 10 years, they have actually focused on those with people skills. Also, all managers must take management training.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s been my experience that having really good people skills can be actively held against you, especially if you are a woman. When I was a reporter, colleagues who were less than constantly abrasive and confrontational were given the most “emotional” stories (even if they’d uncovered illegal activity and confronted wrongdoing in appropriate situations). Ironically the “emotional” stuff made great copy, it would tackle important stuff like sexual abuse, or fatal hospital mistakes, or domestic violence but the stories themselves were downgraded as human pathos stories sometimes. Now as a teacher, I still see it happening. If you’re brilliant at behavior management, your reward is …. more behavior management. However if you’re pedaling a new pedagogy, or have the best subject knowledge (even though everyone does!) that’s sometimes seen as more impressive. However it is at least a field that truly values people skills. Kids are very proactive rebels when people who suck at leadership are in the classroom.

    3. M2RB*

      This view of technical skill > soft skill is true in accounting. I have seen people be promoted to supervisor/manager positions because they were very technically skilled – but then their absolute lack of people skills showed up, and the staff and senior accountants reporting to them suffered.

      Managing people is a whole other set of skills than technical accounting skills.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I used to be a trainer, and many of us hated “team-building.” It was often made up of pointless activities that don’t really help teams the way that truly working together to accomplish a goal does. (And that goal can be to work together on a theoretical scenario, but it is more useful if it’s grounded in the work you do.)

      But I’m OK with icebreakers, unless everyone already knows each other. Then it feels weird to me, like when Monk wrote up flash cards for a date.

      I am totally fine with building relationships doing non-work activities at work. But it’s not the same to me as building a team that works together.

      1. hohumdrum*

        I would argue that, to my point, there is a huge difference in quality between the kind of team building/icebreaker activities someone unqualified pulls off the internet, vs someone trained and competent in facilitating those activities putting together a thoughtful and considered PD. Too many people have had shitty team building/ice breaker experiences because some yahoo charged with leading a staff meeting who spent 10 seconds thinking of an activity with very little care and purpose, but that doesn’t make those activities inherently bad.

        But I also believe context matters! My context is working with learners where they are asked to engage with various curriculum based around creative open-ended engineering prompts. Being creative with others is something that requires a certain vulnerability, and I always always see a huge difference in quality of ideas put forth before a team building/icebreaking activity vs after. I see this with both adult learners and student learners. Sometimes these learners all work together directly outside of my lessons and already know each other, but just as often they don’t- particularly the teachers that come for PDs. Also, for this work experiencing these activities, both the successes and the frustrations, *are* part of the lesson. The point is the experience of vulnerability and learning to work together, and to be able to talk about your feelings and thoughts on that process even including “I hated that”. Frequently teachers are experiencing these lessons so they can adapt them for their own classrooms, so it’s truly all on task, not an aberration from other work.

        I can imagine that context is very different from, say, a data entry job where once a year you’re made to do a staff meeting where everyone has to build a cup tower while blindfolded or something for no apparent reason, and I can see why people find that to be a waste of their time in that case! But I don’t think that means all team building activities are stupid or useless, they have a purpose that is valid but just perhaps not in your situation. I also suspect someone more competent and thoughtful at running team building activities could come up with some activities that may actually be useful for your team.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Your team-building activities sound exactly like what I mean by good and effective ones, but unfortunately, those seem to be vastly outnumbered by bad ones out in the wild. (And I come from a more creative background, so I understand the need to get people in that mindset sometimes.)

          I think too many people have experienced way worse an ineffective “team-building” that doesn’t really relate to their roles, and now the term is a red flag for a lot of people.

  9. kiki*

    This is such an important article! Management training is so lacking everywhere I’ve worked. I think the refusal to train managers has trickled down to poor training for just about all roles as well. In general in the US I’m seeing a pattern towards companies refusing to invest in training or development of employees– they expect that to happen in schooling of some sort or on the employees’ own time/dime. Some folks thrive in this sort of environment, but it also creates workplaces with wildly different expectations and practices.

    1. Angstrom*

      The best argument I’ve heard is:
      “What if we spend the time and money to train them and they leave?”
      “What happens if you don’t train them and they stay?”

      1. Drago Cucina*

        And sometimes they legitimately say, “This is not for me.”

        I used to send all my department heads to a one-day training seminar on transitioning from staff to supervisor. I had someone come back and say, “I’d rather not have the promotion.” Good. I’d rather have her be honest with herself and me. She learned something valuable about herself. She never wants to be in a formal supervisory role.

        1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

          This is me. See my comment about Peter Principle and turning down management offers below.

        2. catsoverpeople*

          This is so important. I think too many people agree to a management promotion because they’re afraid if they say they don’t want it, or that they think they wouldn’t be very good at it, that honesty will be used against them during eval/review time or they will be seen as less valuable by the rest of the team. It’s okay to not want to be a boss!

        3. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

          There are multiple reasons I would never have accepted a management position at my last 9-5 job. First, I had no idea what my manager actually DID. She sure as heck didn’t manage. She was gone for a month and we didn’t notice any difference. When we were so slammed that it was impossible to get the work done, she just shrugged and told us to deal with it. when one of my coworkers complained, the manager told the coworker she had to take anger management classes. I was put on a PIP for reasons that included walking with my head tilted.

          Second of all, I can’t get anyone in my house to take out the trash when i ask them to. How can I get someone to have the Johnson report on my desk by end of day?

    2. Always Tired*

      THIS is the exact issue I am running into right now, both a bad manager and thus bad training. I keep asking “well how should this be done?” to try and help make documentation or do his management for him, and the answer is “they went to school for this, they should already know.” and that’s just not how it works. They understand the concept of the task, but not the company-specific method for completing it. If they guess and are wrong, they get dinged. If they ask for clarification or help, there are complaints about needing hand holding. It’s a no win situation. It’s so frustrating to try and facilitate these relationships as a younger HR generalist.

  10. Pizza Rat*

    It’s incredibly common for people to be promoted into management positions not because they’re skilled managers, but because they were good at something else.

    This right here.

    It’s different skills on top of expertise. Much more of a balancing act. More responsibilities than the direct reports see or know.

    Funny story: I once worked with a woman who drove me absolutely bonkers and I was ready to quit on the spot when she was promoted to the manager of the team. It turns out I loved her as a manager.

    1. Spearmint*

      It’s tricky, though, because a lot of times managers also have to be pretty skilled and knowledgeable about what technical employees are doing, especially first and second level managers. They don’t have to be the best at these tasks, but they need to be good enough at them that they can provide coaching and support.

      I’ve heard stories from people working technical jobs working under MBAs who didn’t know anything about the actual work the employees did, think a manager of programmers who doesn’t even know basic coding, and it sounds just as bad as a technically skilled manager with poor soft skills.

      1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

        “I’ve heard stories from people working technical jobs working under MBAs who didn’t know anything about the actual work the employees did, think a manager of programmers who doesn’t even know basic coding, and it sounds just as bad as a technically skilled manager with poor soft skills.”

        This is true. I once worked on a project that was being run/managed by marketing (don’t ask me why), and I provided an estimate of “X man-hours plus 3 calendar months learning curve” (it was a completely new platform and toolset for our developers). I was literally told to “Work smarter, not harder”. I really wish I’d saved that email for posterity. In any case, guess how late the project was?

        1. Boof*

          / I was literally told to “Work smarter, not harder”. /
          Oooo in the realm of internet fantasies “… and how’s that working out for you?” would be so tempting a zinger to respond with.

    2. ThatGirl*

      My current manager has been with the company for like 25 years, she knows it well, she knows marketing well, she knows creative well…. but she had never been a manager until last December, when we had a reorg and layoffs and she was promptly assigned a team for the first time ever.

      And she’s not bad, I mean, it could have been so much worse. She has our backs, believes in our work and is a pretty good person. But she isn’t proactive in the slightest – someone had to suggest we have regular team meetings, for instance

      1. catsoverpeople*

        Maybe she saw one of those coffee mugs that reads “I survived another meeting that could have been an email” and decided to let her new team tell her if meetings were truly necessary.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      +1 on the responsibilities that the direct reports don’t even see. My calendar and inbox are full of coordination with other departments, being on hiring panels for roles on other teams, arranging funding for our projects, advocating for additional staff (or to be able to backfill open positions), updating job descriptions, negotiating project deadlines, keeping tabs on strategic priorities for the organization that will determine our future workload so I can kick start some projects now that will be useful in a few months, and so on. Lots of it isn’t especially visible to the people on my team.

    4. toolate12*

      This is fascinating about your colleague. Did she have a specific character trait that was bad as a teammate but good as a manager?

  11. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    Aren’t there people outside the company that also have a role in this? I’m thinking of startup investors in particular. Shouldn’t they be insisting on business plans that include adequately training managers?

    1. Turnipnator*

      I think startup investors and boards who demand maximum profits are definitely a part of the problem. In that lense: training costs money, and if the company can operate ‘fine’ without it, it is an unnecessary expense. Since the damage from not training managers (or other employees) is long term, difficult to quantify, and largely borne by employees and not the company, that damage is deemed acceptable (or alleged to not exist).

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      All they are interested in is how many dollar signs are going to fall out. They don’t care what you do or how you do it, as longs as $$$$$$$$$$$ is going into their pockets.

      You would think that they would care, because of long term grown and sustainability and profits, but nope. They just want as much money as quickly as they can possibly get it.

      Human beings can be remarkably short sighted.

    3. Antilles*

      No, because those people outside the company aren’t in it for the long haul.
      The activist shareholder, startup investor, or venture capitalist doesn’t care about what makes your company most effective in 2028 because he’s not planning on still holding the stock in 2028. He cares about what’s going to make your company most profitable in the next 3, 6, or 12 months because that’s the timetable he’s planning on before bailing out.

      1. I Have RBF*

        The quarterly profit motive, in some cases, runs extremely counter to the going concern concept. This is why vampire capitalists are “successful” in buying companies, extracting all of the value out of them, and then jettisoning into bankruptcy the lifeless husk. It changed when business went from “build a long term, profitable and stable firm” to “maximize shareholder value each and every quarter.” IMO, the nation is poorer for the switch.

  12. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

    Business world seems to think if you’re good at what you do, you’ll be a good manager that will impart that wisdom/savvy onto your direct reports…without realizing that being good at doing something =/= management or teaching skills.

  13. TootSweet*

    This is so common. One of the things I love about where I work now is our manager orientation. In addition to training new managers on their job duties, we train them on these topics: conflict resolution, coaching and performance management, employee retention, stay interviews, transitioning from coworker to manager, and delivering difficult messages. Our HR professionals always make themselves available for any questions before, during, and after so that no one feels like they’re twisting in the wind. And my team works on continuous improvement for the sessions because we can always do more and do better. I wish more organizations would develop a program like this.

  14. NotALLManagers*

    Just want to stick up for those of us out here in the trenches of managing. I really, really try to be fair, set expectations, am flexible and accommodate the ever-changing needs of the staff I supervise. Sometimes I can easily do this, other times people really expect the moons and stars beyond reason. We are all here to do a job and we all, managers included, would much rather be elsewhere if given the choice! Some of us try to make the day a little less onerous and stressful within the boundaries set by the org. I am tired of hearing that all managers are bad.

      1. NotALLManagers*

        Yes, I read it. I get that but even some of us who may be considered undertrained are aware and doing what we can to overcome the gap.

        1. Cinnamon Hair*

          If it helps, you would be a person that I would consider a good manager. The bad managers are the ones get drunk on the power of bossing people around, refuse to admit they have no skills to manage properly, and just generally end up being a liability to both the staff and the company.

          Your company’s failure to train you properly does not automatically make you a bad manager. It’s all about attitude and self-awareness, which it sounds like you have.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      I think that being that you are reading AAM and are aware of your limitations that you are better than some.

    2. somehow*

      “We are all here to do a job and we all, managers included, would much rather be elsewhere if given the choice!”

      Huh? “We all…” Not I – and there are many others like me.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Part of the reason people “expect the moons and stars beyond reason” is because the general knowledge of what good management is, or what a reasonable manager does, is so mysterious to so many. So the expectations vary wildly; Person A expects the unconditional support of a parent, Person B expects a friend who’s more interested in their life than their performance, Person C expects a dictator who will give no quarter, etc. It’s not just ignorance of what to expect from managers, expectations of HR can be similarly clueless because they associate them with power. I’ve heard people who expect a “good HR” to be able to rein in a bad company owner, as though they have sheriff powers or a magic wand, instead of being simply a group of people whose training and powers come from the owner.

    4. Antilles*

      Nowhere in the article did it say that all managers are bad.
      If anything, the article is actually on your side: In arguing that companies should be doing more managerial training, AAM is saying that the job of managing is difficult and skillful, rather than the usual corporate attitude of “meh, you’ll figure it out, good engineer=good manager”.

    5. frustratedTrainee*

      People can also be very unaware that their managers ALSO HAVE managers and are impacted by them. A manager can’t wave a magic wand that undoes damage done by those above me, some of us are just trying to survive an absolutely impossible situation

  15. pally*

    I know I was moved into management without a lick of management training. My boss, at his prior company, earned an entire advanced degree in management (MBA maybe?) on that company’s dime. This was necessary for him to move into upper management.

    But the rule here is NEVER pay to train anyone for anything (other than short, one day classes on something). Otherwise, that trained employee will up and leave -taking that training with them. I took supervision and business management classes on my own at the local community college to find some way to do this job. They helped.

    1. Turnipnator*

      A solution to people leaving with their training would be employment contracts with some kind of repayment clause if the employee leaves on their initiative before a fixed term. This is pretty common for companies that have tuition reimbursement as a benefit, for instance. Of course that might also require demonstrating that training has value beyond its cost for employees that do stick around. I think the difficulty in proving that value to board members and shareholders is why any kind of formal on the job training seems to be hard to come by in industries without strong regulations or unions.

  16. Joyce to the World*

    I had a temporary management role for about 9 months. It went so terribly wrong that at this point I can’t tell if I would be a good people manager or not. The other “real” managers who pushed me into the role gave me zero support. They actively worked to undermine me by telling the team that they didn’t have to do anything I said. They assigned a mentor, but she was pretty worthless and she too tried to sabotage me. I tried so hard to be encouraging and give the team opportunities and yet they were all coming up with “schemes” to cause me as much trouble as possible. I spent so many hours in HR getting grilled. I can honestly say that I have PTSD about supervising people now.
    My current supervisor seems to be new to the role. I hope he is getting a lot of guidance. It doesn’t seem like he knows how to manage a team or build up his team members. He really doesn’t want to be bothered by anything.

  17. Carmichael Lemon*

    When I was promoted to a supervisory position (with zero training, of course), I asked my previous manager for any advice…just to be polite, because they were a pretty bad manager and most of what I had learned was to not manage like they did. Their advice was basically, “Just be very hands off so that your direct reports will be forced to figure things out on their own, which is the same as professional development!” (I paraphrase.)

    1. OrangeCup*

      Oh, wow. I have a colleague who is a middle manager and she is very incompetent, and I think that’s why she’s so hands off and tells all her people to figure things out on their own, so no one will realise she knows nothing. One of her staff came to me asking me for a piece of information I could provide in 2 seconds and spilled the beans about that to me, and told me my colleague would sit for three to four hours wasting time trying to figure things out for herself and expected her staff to all do the same rather than ask for help…I told her she was already smarter than her boss by asking for help.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I see you worked for my old manager, who I used to call Cornelius Fudge (same level of being too hands off, burying head in sand, forming own conclusions and acting on that without investigating). My next one after that was so determined to avoid making her mistakes (she was removed from post because her total lack of understanding of what her teams did led to her approving a restructure that laid too many people off and caused chaos) that she went too far in the other direction, became a micromanaging Dolores Umbridge, and never quite understood that that itself could be a mistake.

  18. UKReader*

    So, any ideas about where to get manager training if one’s organization doesn’t provide it? (other than reading AAM obsessively of course!) LinkedIn Learning has some courses, Udemy has some, but they all seem to be very generic.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think most of them are going to be very generic because it really depends on the kind of company/organization you work for. But maybe searching for some specific management topics might help? Like “Scheduling Techniques for Managers” or “Helping Underperforming Employees” maybe?

    2. pally*

      Might check your local community college – business department. They may have courses in supervision, and management. Read the course descriptions to be sure.

      1. higheredadmin*

        A lot of Universities will have evening/on-line courses in management and or business development that can lead to certificates. You can do these without pursuing a full-on MBA. I would suggest (in addition to your community college) your state/local University.

    3. Drago Cucina*

      I used to wonder about all the flyers I received from the Fred Pryor seminars. Then a friend in HR recommended them. They turned out to be a good deal.

      I liked the transitioning from staff to supervisor. There is a whole online track if you want to do it on your own.

    1. higheredadmin*

      +10000. Just dealing with a staff member who has been mismanaged by the tenured faculty person who was supposed to supervise them. The staff person has been “working from home” for three days per week for YEARS and not doing a lick of work on those days – not even answering email, literally nothing. Faculty never said a thing but I guess just grumbled about it to other faculty. Now trying to sort it out and it is a mess. (Also wondering why I don’t have a two day a week job with a five day a week salary.)

    2. Phony Genius*

      In academia, it’s not just management that’s not trained well. Professors are often hired for their accomplishments in their field, but have little training in teaching. You may be the most brilliant structural engineer in the world, but if you can’t explain to a classroom of students how to design a simple truss, then someone else should be teaching the course.

      1. sam_i_am*

        I mean, in academia, professors *are* management. They’re not the only management, but they manage research teams. My quality of life at work fell pretty dramatically when I went from being managed by a staff member to being managed by a faculty member. Not only are profs not trained on how to manage, but they’ve never been staff, so they don’t know what it’s like to be managed either.

    3. Also cute and fluffy!*

      My area just got a really great manager, but after six years of no or absent managers, today’s first all-hands on deck meeting felt weird. It’s going to take a bit of time to recalibrate to effective management!

  19. BellyButton*

    Organizational and People Development here– it IS changing. Companies that have a robust org and people development team know the importance of helping people be successful in their current role, but also in their future role.

    A good portion of my job is working with the C-suite to convert their business goals to what that means for people. Do we currently have people with the skills needed to reach those goals, if not- does anyone here have the ability, interest, and engagement to gain new or stronger skills to be ready when the time comes? If not, what skills/level of experience will we need, when, and what will be the cost of that hiring.

    I also work with all the leaders in the company to identify our future leaders- assessing when they will be ready for the leadership or the next level of leadership: ready now, 1-2 yrs, 3-5 yrs, and creating development plans. And finally we identify the SMEs who do not have an interest in people management, but we need to continue to support and develop.

    When you are interviewing for a job ask the hiring manager “how do you develop managers? Do you have a leadership program? What kind of learning and development is offered to employees? Do you do career pathing, development plans, and skills/competency assessments as part of the review process?”

    It used to be that employees waited for their manager to tell them where they should go and what they should be doing, but that is no longer the case. Most companies no longer have a clearly identified career path. It is often up to the employee to identify their areas of interest and then seek guidance from their manager and their L&D department on how to get there.

    Trust me, I am aware that not every company, especially small ones and rarely if ever in a non-profit, has anything even close to the kind of development programs people want and need. But I do want people to know that they do exist, they are out there, and you can find them!

    Organizational and People Development is the fastest growing areas in HR adjacent careers. Traditional HR – employee relations, payroll, benefits- is only one small function of what HR should be now.

  20. Peanut Hamper*

    People get promoted to management without being trained for it because this is one of those jobs (teaching is another) that people don’t think you need a lot of, or any, training for. Which is complete and utter bullshit.

    (Side note: I’m still pissed at ST:DS9 when there was no school on the station and Keiko O’Brien said, “Well, I guess I’ll be a teacher now. All I need are some desks and computers and this damn bell for my desk.” Because yes, being a botanist prepares you perfectly for being a teacher.)

    Being a good manager is about knowing how to work with people. The idea that you’re good with widgets so you would automatically be good at managing a widget making team is completely illogical. And yet, here we are.

  21. Lady_Lessa*

    I went through several 1 day course for management training at my previous job. Several problems. 1) Personally I don’t have the character for it, and have failed both inside and outside of work.
    2) Even when I learned things, and wanted to use both a carrot and a stick to improve attendance, I wasn’t allowed to do so. I had no tools, yet results were expected.
    3) I was never in the interviews for a new person, who would be in a locked lab with me.
    4) the company had a hard time adjusting to a new person, since I was replace a woman who retired 3 months after I started, and she didn’t do a good job on teaching me the stuff that I had never worked with before.
    5) Due to my newness and the lack of turnover there, all of my usual tricks to get to know folks and work within the company failed.

    1. frustratedTrainee*

      ” I had no tools, yet results were expected.” If this doesn’t describe my experience in management to a T. Absolutely no support from the company, I wasn’t allowed to do anything – I was just supposed to talk down upset employees so they didn’t become A Problem for higher-level managers, but I couldn’t give raises, remove problem employees (even sexually inappropriate ones) develop more interesting projects to keep employees on, or provide them any flexibility.

    2. Drago Cucina*

      “I was never in the interviews for a new person, who would be in a locked lab with me.”

      This has never made sense to me. I stopped directly interviewing library aides (usually high school and college students) because I wasn’t going to be their direct supervisor. I started by doing it in tandem. Then they took over the process. It actually helped the aides understand that they needed to follow their directions because they were seen as managers from the beginning.

  22. Failure at Managing*

    I really believe companies purposely do a poor job with training new managers because being a first line manager for the first time is a form of hazing. I felt like I was being constantly hazed by my team, the other managers, and my manger. I wish had reviewed this site. I would not have taken the job because my team to quote my dysfunctional manager was “walking set of heart of attacks.” Moreover the team was a bunch of misogynists and antisemites.
    To this day (15 years later!), I still feel like a failure because I was removed from the position. It has affected every aspect of my life. It affected my marriage. I do not have a good outlook on life. Perhaps I got what I deserved. I responded poorly to them, but I really believe that I was going to work, but I was being hazed.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I’m sorry that happened to you.
      I don’t know you, but you are NOT a failure. Yes, you failed at one thing, but I am sure that you have succeeded in a number of things.

  23. Ihavekittens*

    I am a very good manager – this is not boasting, I have been a manager for a long time and I know I am good at it. I mentor, train, and support my team members. I help them plan for their future careers and I coach them on how to improve their performances in their current position. I cheer their successes and I get them through the times when things didn’t go so well. And when they are ready to move on, I cheer them then too.

    But I see SO many really bad awful managers around and it causes so much trouble. Particularly when the very bad manager is the C Suite. It usually causes a disaster of epic proportions and because the culprit is at such a high level all you can do is watch the fallout and hope not to get splashed. And yes, there really should be manager training as a given.

  24. I'm just here for the cats!!*

    This was a great read. On the flip side of having a technical worker promoted to manager you get someone who is in a manager role who doesn’t understand what the people they manage do. So they either rely on the workers to tell them what to do or make things miserable for the workers by budding in and making suggestions or policies that don’t work.

    My mom wors as a customer support/ tech support person just like the rest of her coworkers. However, she is a department of one. the small company has a specific line of products that she works with. When she has to handle technical calls they can take much longer than the calls her coworkers take. It’s just the nature of that specific equipment. In the last month or so she’s told me how her bosses boss just doesn’t understand why she takes so few calls. when looking at her metrics they aren’t including her emails, which is how most of her coworkers reach out to her and prefer to be contacted. She was getting to the point where she would write down every ticket number she handled, including emails and voicemails, and timing how long it took to complete it. After going back and forth her boss finaly understands that her metrics are going to look differently than everyone elses.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      Oh shoot I hit reply when I wasn’t ready yet!

      The reason why my mom’s boss doesnt understand is she has never worked on the call center side. She was hired in as a top manager, which she seems to be good at. But she didn’t know how to quantify what everyone was doing, which is why they’ve started this metrix.

    2. somehow*

      “So they either rely on the workers to tell them what to do or make things miserable for the workers by budding in and making suggestions or policies that don’t work.”

      Or, those managers do get training and ask questions of their people about what their people are doing, and otherwise observe and learn for 6 months to a year because employer is a good one and knows how to train and what it means.

      Many possibilities exist.

  25. old curmudgeon*

    I spent a few years as a manager a couple decades ago, and in retrospect, I know I was AWFUL.

    I had been an individual contributor throughout my career, and had applied for an individual contributor position, which unbeknownst to me had been changed to a managerial position after it was posted. I got hired, received exactly zero training for actual, you know, managerial things, and the results were about what you’d expect. I would have loved having someone offer guidance, training, mentoring, reading material, really anything at all that could have filled in the knowledge I didn’t have, but I basically just flew by the seat of my pants the entire time I held that position.

    In hindsight, I ache to think how poorly managed my staff was and how they must have struggled with such an incompetent booby for a supervisor – but I also ache for myself, tossed into the deep end of managing with no preparation or training. It was just a bad situation all around.

    I left that job for the individual contributor role that I still hold now, and I am much, much happier. If I ever consider returning to a managerial position, the decision whether or not to try for it will be heavily influenced by how much (if any) training is provided to new managers in the role, because I don’t ever want to inflict my ineptitude on any direct reports again.

  26. stitchinthyme*

    My current company has the worst management I’ve had in my career. (Though not to the level of requiring employees to get tested for liver donation, or asking someone to leave a note on a grave!) Having spent 20 years at companies where my manager was the one who assigned me work, I wasn’t prepared for a company where the person who I officially report to really just does the administrative stuff like approving time off, and my first boss here actually made a negative comment on my first evaluation because whenever I’d finish a task, I’d ask him for something else to do. So I stopped asking and started goofing off until someone remembered I existed and threw a task my way, at least until I got comfortable enough to start taking initiative and making fixes and improvements where I saw they could be useful.

    It’s gotten better in recent years; the company structure is still the same, but my boss now is better and more responsive (and not the type to ding me for the crime of asking for something to do!), and we have more project leaders who I can talk to when I finish a task and need to figure out where I’m needed next. But management is still all technical people without formal management training, so there’s room for improvement. (I am one of those people who does not have the skills or desire to ever be a manager, and I have known this my entire career. I don’t care about advancement as long as I’m being paid enough to be comfortable, which I am.)

  27. Karrie*

    OR on the flipside. You are a great leader and would be a great manager but any managerial roles you apply for require previous management experience!

  28. Indolent Libertine*

    Isn’t it part of the issue that, in many fields and companies, all of the top titles and pay grades are reserved for “management“ positions and there is simply no way to rise above the middle as an individual contributor? This inevitably leads to situations where the only way to offer someone any further rewards for their excellent performance is to “promote“ them away from what they’re good at and into some thing they may have no skills for, and no desire to do.

  29. Baron*

    I’m in a field which, like many fields, thinks management positions are a reward for being the best individual contributor. And…no! It’s its own skill set. Thank you, Alison.

  30. Goldenrod*

    To my mind, this suggestion is key:

    “Create tracks for people to move up that don’t involve managing, since not everyone will be good at it.”

    Where I work (a very large university employing thousands of staff), pretty much the only way to move up is to have a certain number of reports. This encourages people with no interest or aptitude for managing to move into management roles, and it makes it hard for the organization to retain fantastic employees who are interested in promotion, just not management.

    I think the only reason this system is in place is because it’s easy. Period, end of sentence. But it’s not effective.

  31. Renee Remains the Same*

    OMG – I was so not trained. My boss was great and also not trained, so they may have assumed I would just naturally slide into the role as it was an extension of my responsibilities as the most senior person in the department. (providing guidance and institutional expertise) But the administrative functions completely confound me and the direct management of people is a nuance that I regularly get frustrated with. While, I’ve been told I do a decent job at all of this, after several years of management, I am burned out and recently accepted a job that returns me to an individual contributor role. I am literally counting the weeks.

  32. sofar*

    I’m laughing over here because my number of direct reports just tripled. I started managing like 3 years ago with no training and have been treading water ever since. The new folks I manage should NOT be managed by me. But their boss quit, we are not backfilling, AND the TWO employees on their team who were approached with the opportunity to become managers declined because they don’t want to manage. So now I’m managing the lot of them, I don’t really know what a lot of them do, and I’m like, “Welp, I’ll figure it out … or not.”

    I never particularly WANTED to manage from the beginning and declined three years ago, and the company was like, “You need to step up.” And offered me more money. So here I am, continuing to build my weird empire of a random assortment of people who should not be on the same team, with no training on how to effectively manage. My single qualification for ending up here was saying, “OK fine” to opportunities.

    What’s surprised me is that SO MANY other people managers feel the way I do. We’re just … here somehow.

    1. Flaming*

      Look and see if your local community college (or even Big University) have management training programs as part of their Continuing Education department.

  33. Greg*

    Yes! This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since I was promoted to my first managerial role more than 25 years ago. And then I went to business school and decided to major in management, and couldn’t believe that’s not a required course for every single college student.

  34. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    My very large employer runs a competitive six-month (one full day session per month, plus homework and mentor meetings) leadership program for folks who are not in management but would like to be. You have to be nominated by your boss and seconded by your boss’s boss to even apply, then write an application that I think was more involved than my grad school application was :P I got promoted to a manager position the week after my cohort graduated, and I have used SO MUCH of what I learned.

  35. Unkempt Flatware*

    I have only had one great manager who still ended up letting me down in the end with a really bad choice that she didn’t take accountability for. I’m at a new role with a so-far-so-good boss who I have high hopes for.

  36. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    The very worst managers I’ve worked under have been those in state and city government; something about knowing that it’s extremely difficult (almost impossible) to get fired from those positions seems to spur/encourage the development of really bad managers. And HR was poorly lacking so they wouldn’t do anything about the bad managers. And the bad managers had bad directors they reported to, who also didn’t do anything about the bad managers. Seriously: I’ve only had two good, kind, competent, non-abusive managers in the past 20 years (out of probably 12 total). It’s really discouraging.

  37. Just Here for the Llama Grooming*

    Oh wow do I feel this. It is particularly bad in large professional service firms, where there are dozens if not hundreds of small manager relationships (the professional and their admin), plus whatever staff-side management the admins have, plus the staff departments (HR, finance, marketing, IT). And there is no training. Ever. For anyone. I have a boss and a grandboss on the staff side who mean well and are nice human beings but who … are not managers. At least the professionals I work with are good folk and make it all livable but what I wouldn’t give to see real training and support. (Small firms are worse because everyone is always overwhelmed because there’s never enough time or money, although big shops can certainly cheap out too).

  38. Ruby*

    One other thing that gets neglected in manager non-training is LABOR LAWS.
    Spouse was recently promoted to a management position at our shared company (different divisions) and they get NO training on things like discrimination laws and the NLRA.

  39. Alex*

    Thank you for all the insights as I am soon to be an untrained manager.

    I’ve never held a managerial role or really wanted one. Yet, my boss has decided it’s time to grow my team beyond just me and thinks I should be in charge of it. I haven’t been given clear direction on what new duties I’m expected to take on. I also wasn’t given a say in the hiring process. Instead, upper management has decided to move someone from another department onto my team. We did a trial run with this person last year and it went very poorly and I’m not confident things will be different this time around. I expressed that if we are hiring someone to report to me, I should have a say in who that person is. But the decision has already been made without my input.

    So, I’m being thrust into a role I don’t want, I’m not prepared for, I don’t think I’ll have time for, with a person I don’t have faith in and who I didn’t get to choose. Fun times, indeed.

    1. Flaming*

      Look and see if your local community college (or even Big University) have management training programs as part of their Continuing Education department.

  40. Antilles*

    One related point that the article didn’t touch on:
    In my experience, even when companies provide training for new managers, it’s usually not particularly effective since the entire training is usually focused on stuff like corporate policies or the payroll system or how to approve Expense Reports and NOT anything about interpersonal group dynamics, handling tricky situations, or the true day-to-day business of managing humans.

    1. jellied brains*

      Yeah the e-courses I was given were how to check a time sheet & stuff like that, not how to actually manage someone who can’t appear to count

  41. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

    I’m in tech, and I know I’m disorganized and not well suited towareds management.

    I’ve been offered management jobs, and have ended interviews with, “Thanks, but I think I’m not what you’re looking for.” Once, when my boss (also the owner of the company — it was a VERY small company) offered me a management position, I told him, “I am aware of my limitations*. I can do it, but I won’t be happy and you wouldn’t be happy either.”

    *This is the management-speak that pretty much worked with this boss.

    I’m also very aware of the Peter Principle and know that my technical competence does not translate well to management.

    I think the real problem is that in many companies, there’s no real way to get a high position and salary WITHOUT going into management, and this needs to be addressed.

  42. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

    If nothing else, there are two books that I would consider MANDATORY reading for new managers.

    1. The Peter Prinicple by Laurence J. Peter (ISBN-13 978-1788166058)
    2. The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks (ISBN-13 978-0201835953)

    The latter would be more for managers in a technical field, but the insights are universal.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I would add “Peopleware”. Like the others it’s a little dated, but it’s good from a technical management focus.

  43. not bitter, just sour*

    This is been my experience with being a manager against my will:

    • First direct report came to me because the person meant to be their manager had too many things on their plate.
    • This role was brand new and I was brought in late, so I was struggling to make it up as I went along
    • my manager helped a little but the person was eventually put on a PIP & then fired.

    Take two: suddenly I was responsible for hiring. Ok great. They gave me a list of internal candidates. Interviewed them all. Chose someone who interviewed well but turned out to be …not great.
    • Turned out HR & the C-suite hated him (why was he ever an option then???)
    His attitude was abysmal. I tried to work with him but he had such a chip on his shoulder. I had extra pressure to get him to shape up because the higher ups disliked him and obviously his very existence reflected poorly on me. But absolutely no support or help with how to manage him effectively.
    • He quit when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to get the very significant raise he was angling for.

    Take Three:
    • told that the position would be moved to someone else but then also told I was responsible for his replacement.
    • still have no idea WTF my responsibilities are and honestly don’t care anymore. Been yanked around too much to give a shit ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

  44. Bonnie Lackey*

    There needs to be someone that is competent to train a manager. I’m not sure many companies – with the huge labor shortage – has someone with the skills to train managers that also has the time to do their job and also do training. I’ve been in my industry for 45 years and often see people thrown into leadership – sometimes before they even understand the goals of what they have been assigned to accomplish. I worry about what will happen when this labor shortage is no longer and people have to be dedicated to excellence to keep their jobs.


    I’m certain I’ve told this story before, whether under this name or another nonsensical one – I was hired at a job very early in my career to direct “employee engagement” at a place where managers were simply technical specialists that were best at their jobs. When I suggested that we focus most of the budget on department director training, they told me to go throw more pizza parties and take around the snack cart again. Still kinda mad about it.

  46. It's Me*

    I used to train aspiring managers (in my case, teachers who wanted to move into coaching or school leadership), and we first needed to spend a lot of time making sure folks understood what the role was or how to find out. I could tell a lot of participants didn’t even know they should ask about the people management vs. individual contributions vs. on call vs. supervision breakdown of the role and how that could impact their ability to be successful in it. I also could not say enough that “current management sucks, I want to move up and change everything” is a plan destined for failure for so many reasons.

  47. EDTheTrainer*

    It’s true they don’t get much training but I think the problem is we expect them to manage and do a full time job. If you should have 30% of your time spent managing people and are still expected to produce 100% worth of work, guess what gets cut. One skill we tend to gloss over when training, is delegation, which would make doing the 30% managing easier.
    A problem that is closely related is promoting people into management that either don’t want to manage or don’t have the EQ. Sometimes the only way for people to promote is to move into management. This is a huge issue.

  48. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    So, short of joining the military or getting an otherwise useless MBA, what do you recommend people do if they want to be GOOD managers? Asking for me.

    1. anony*

      lol the only part of this I need to push back on is the idea that an MBA gives people management skills. No shade, but I’ve never known anyone with an MBA to be a good manager!

  49. DameB*

    I would have KILLED for even a one-week training course when I got promoted to manager (against my will). It was a temporary gig — I suddenly had three direct reports for a project that was going to last a year — so I thought it might have been that they didn’t want to invest in a one-year manager. But I’ve seen others get promoted with the same amount of training (ZERO).

    Entertainingly, the thing I drew on most was my background as a SAHM. Managing a household with a small child gave me a ton of skills that I called on — juggling schedules and multiple projects, time management, maintaining a joint calendar, teaching new hires how to do a thing, etc. I got great feedback from my direct reports and my bosses, but when they approached me about being a manager again, I was like “No, thank you.”

  50. lazuli*

    A senior manager at my workplace told me candidly that she couldn’t really train the managers who reported to her, since she had never received management training either and didn’t really know what she was doing in that regard either. So you’ve got situations like that where new managers (or any managers) can’t be evaluated on their management skills in any meaningful way.

  51. megaboo*

    I am now working for a great boss and it’s my first time supervising people. She’s been a great leader so far and I’ve really excelled. I’m still not there yet, I have problems sticking up for myself (not for the group I supervise) and I’m learning. After having so many crappy bosses, it’s a real pleasure to have someone supporting me.

  52. Toots La'Rue*

    I recently got my first direct report (about six months ago). I felt relatively well-prepared after frequenting AAM, but I asked my (notoriously awful) HR for a rundown of things I should know / prepare for ahead of managing someone. It took two months and lots of haranguing for them to set it up. I was told the meeting would be with a rep and the head of HR, and that they “always liked to go over some guidelines with new managers”.

    When we finally had the meeting, only the rep showed up and she said “so, what questions did you have?” I asked a few questions but it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to get anything comprehensive from them when I asked if there was anything I should look out for when conducting interviews and she rattled off a list of protected characteristics and left off age completely.

  53. Bryce with a Y*

    Long story ahead

    This post reminded me of a conversation I had at an antique car and hot rod show last summer with some folks whose family had been in the car business for more than 100 years, and who owned one of the Chrysler Corporation’s very first dealerships. (The founder of Chrysler Corporation, Walter Chrysler, knew their grandparents.) They’re retired now, but before they retired, they owned several new and used car dealerships, repair shops, hot rod shops, and gas stations.

    We got to talking about their experiences in these businesses, and I asked them, “have you got any secrets for being as successful as you were?”

    Their answer surprised me: “Not many people know this, but we never promoted anyone, and we told people not to promote anyone.”

    I asked them why this was, and they responded with:

    “Well, we did that at first, but we realized that while it seems like a good idea in theory to reward people that way, in reality, it doesn’t really work out a lot of the time. Think about it: if you’re really good at whatever your job is, whether that’s fixing cars, selling cars, or whatever, you get ‘rewarded’ by being moved into a job in which you don’t fix or sell cars or do what it was that you were so good at, and that requires a whole different set of skills and experience than what you’re good at. Yet somehow somebody came up with that idea and thought it was a good idea.”

    “But what happens more often than not, or at least it happened with us, is that you promote people out of a job they like and are good at and end up putting them in a job they won’t like and won’t be good at. Whenever you do that, you lose two jobs: the job they used to have and the job they are now in and not doing well in.”

    I asked them “So how did you reward people for doing good work?”

    “Simple. If they were good mechanics, or good sales people, we paid them more. Or we offered some other benefits, like printing out awards, posting award certificates on the walls, putting an article in the newspaper thanking them for their service, paying for their uniforms, giving them fancier uniforms or offices, giving them a nicer company car, giving them more vacation, you get the idea. We even had Lee Iacocca himself come to our dealership and present folks with awards signed by him. He even invited one of our top sales people to play golf with him—how cool was that?”

    “It must have worked, because our dealerships and garages led the region, and sometimes the country, in sales and quality, and we got a lot of recognition from the community and from Chrysler and other big companies we worked with. We also had folks stay with us for 10, 20, 30, even 40 years.”

    “The point is that you gotta, gotta, gotta keep the right people in the right jobs, and you will pay as much as you have to pay and do whatever you need to do to have the right people in the right jobs.”

    “Yeah, there were obviously exceptions, like when the parts manager retired and we moved the assistant parts manager into that position. But because of how we did things, we had folks who were extremely happy and it sounds crazy, but we had mechanics and sales people making as much or more than many of our management people after 5-10 years.”

    “That’s because people who are happy with their jobs and good at them will never do anything to screw up a good thing with you if you are paying well and recognizing them for a job well done. You’re a lot better off to do that than to try to train someone new all the time. And yeah, folks would occasionally feel jealous or left out or whatever about not being in a management position and started to look around, only to find they’re making more money fixing cars or selling cars than any other place in town will pay considering they’ve got no management experience—and even with!”

    1. Flaming*

      But think of all that money a shareholder might be losing out on by paying people this way. Bet you $$ they stayed private.

  54. D.W. Read*

    LOL the timing of this. I’m 4 months into a new job and am looking to leave because my manager is the biggest buffoon. He was given his role of teapot director last year, when he didn’t have a background in teapot making, I suspect a lot of it was him kissing up/kicking down.

    Sorry, venting a bit lol.

  55. Coin Purse*

    My last manager was a wonderful person ….but had a GED and was managing licensed staff with Masters degrees. They would death spiral any time a technical issue arose. They were in panic attack mode over scheduling because they never ever wanted to be in a position to answer a question. Therefore we were all “butts in the seats” 50 hours a week and forced to cover our own illnesses and disability leaves. Retirement has made me realize how dreadful it all was.

  56. Humpty Dumpty*

    Articles like these make me so angry. Nearly all managers I’ve had were terrible at their jobs. The one good manager I had got fired because his own manager was really bad.

    Classic situations of people getting promoted without any expertise. It makes me think that the way companies are run is hopelessly outdated and we need a worldwide overhaul.

  57. Merrie*

    I spent a long time in retail pharmacy and the management training was truly terrible; also we were so busy there wasn’t much time in which to manage. I know I wasn’t a great manager in a lot of ways, but also part of that was due to my environment shooting me in the foot. So glad I no longer work there.

  58. Anne Boleyn's Necklace*

    I’ve seen this throughout my entire career in higher education. As a staff member, the upper echelons of administration are reserved for tenured faculty, who have spent a lot of time learning a subject matter and zero time learning how to manage people (or teach their knowledge to students effectively, but I digress). There are so many jobs where you cannot even apply if you are not tenured faculty, and with many direct reports. It’s ridiculous.

    1. datamuse*

      I mentioned this up above but yeah, this was my experience. When I got an interim director appointment because I’d been there longest and had tenure (and at the time there was no one else with tenure in my unit–that’s another story) I agreed to do it just to keep the ship afloat, but I wasn’t prepared in any real way for the job. I was grateful to hire my permanent replacement.

  59. datamuse*

    My father was a computer programmer for his entire career. He said once that the best manager he ever had came to their company–a government contractor–from McDonald’s. (Their management training program at the time was legendary; I don’t know what it’s like now.) She didn’t know very much about software, but she knew plenty about managing people so they could do their best work.

  60. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I got very, very lucky. When I rose through the ranks as a techie there wasn’t any higher to go than into management but I had a fantastic mentor who was my former manager at a previous firm and he’d shown me what a good boss did.

    Still, I made mistakes and continue to do so! But also the firm I was at actually did management training (and the trainer pointed me to this site and that’s how I came here) and it really made a difference.

  61. Don't Be Longsuffering*

    AAM mentions that it would be a significant investment for companies to truly train managers but, like ignoring the “no assholes” rule, they are ignoring the significant costs of not training them.

  62. Rachel L*

    Thank you so much for this article! All of it is so true. However, I have a slightly different perspective. I’ve been a manager at my company for over 8 years, and I’m currently the longest tenured line manager in the division. Over the last several years, I’ve taken it upon myself (with support from my directors) to facilitate a program for new managers that helps develop their management skills (coaching, giving feedback, holding team members accountable, etc.). Now our company is going through some restructuring, and I’m worried about eventually having to look for work. My problem is this: companies don’t want to hire managers from outside, even if they have demonstrated management skills. I would have more luck looking for a job doing the work I did years ago before I became a manager. Am I just looking in the wrong places? Or would I have been better off developing other skills (project management, data analysis) even though my passion is being a better manager?

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