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Strong management can help business flourish. Sometimes, though, management is the sole reason why a company fails. To get it right, be flexible - and check your ego at the door.

If physics is the science of pushing matter around, then management is the science of pushing people around. With physics, great things can be accomplished. With management, business can flourish.

Anytime a group of people is assembled to complete a task, and co-exist, management is required. Families, sports teams, military forces, production staff - all of these require management. But managers have to be well organized, well trained, have the subordinate’s best interest at heart and maintain a steady driving force.

In reality, that’s not how it always works.

Often, management is the sole reason why a company fails. Not unlike an unbalanced bearing or a hot running motor, management failure can be predictable and the root cause can be understood. Of course, understanding why a motor fails is far easier then understanding why a manager has failed.

There are loads of reasons why management failure occurs, but bad managers can basically be characterized into four groups. (The really bad ones may actually belong to two or more!)  They are:

1) The Roach – The manager that lacks integrity.  This creature is greedy, may look to capitalize at the expense of its subordinates, can be dishonest, immoral, and unethical, lack accountability, be very inwardly fearful and have a huge displaced ego.  They believe that their market understanding and vision supersedes the corporate objective.  They also know how to play upper level management. They typically throw subordinates under the bus while offering up solutions that may actually have been suggested by another subordinate.  The chance of the Roach giving credit where it is due is very unlikely.  Of the four categories, the Roach has the greatest survival skills.   

2) The Hack – The manager that lacks ability and knowledge as it pertains to the business and or subordinate management skills.  They possess little if any market intelligence.  Traits also include a lack of organizational skills, follow through / follow-up, and an inability to motivate or inspire subordinates. They may have difficulty retaining or even recruiting the right subordinates. They often micro-manage or over analyzes to the point of paralysis. They ask for input and ideas but never implement any of them. An interesting defense mechanism is a creation of bureaucracy so that ideas and decisions have to go through numerous approval processes. The inability to foster a team or provide adequate training/mentoring while not setting clear goals and expectations define the Hack. The Hack can also be critical of categorizing bad managers into four groups.

3) The Emotional Buffoon – The manager that lacks behavioral competencies.  They are non-empathic or in some rare cases too empathetic which can take away from team objectives by catering to the emotional flamboyancy of some team members.  Most often, though, they have an inability to understand and or listen to subordinates needs or wishes. They can be too emotional or quick tempered and lack rationality and/or emotional intelligence.  Sometimes these creatures are thought to be tough or demanding yet many achieve their power through coercion.  Subordinates show little if any dedication or loyalty to this socially inept manager.

4) The Scared Burn Out – This poor beast shows little or no initiative.  They lack courage to be vulnerable or tough.  They can’t or won’t speak their mind or stand by their convictions because time and or energy has passed them bye.  They are the tired work horse that spent too many years in the field and yet the thought of dropping out of their management position would destroy them.  In many cases the Scared Burn Out was one of the very best at what he or she did. Years or management abuse and a constant high level of performance pursuit have taken its toll.  The SB would best serve the company as an individual contributor.  

There is a balance that must be struck and a manager has to understand his subordinates while producing a cohesive plan for success. One production manager I spoke to, when asked why he thought some managers failed, told me the following.

 “Managers are control freaks. No doubt about that. It's how they got where they are. At that point, they will struggle mightily unless they learn to perform a 180-degree turn. Delegation means you're not going to do it....someone else is. Delegation requires courage. Managers can destroy months of their own efforts in not trying to get workers to take initiative, take risks and use imagination to reach for the brass ring when they around someone's shoulders, grab the wheel and make a course correction. Quite frankly, they would have been much better off invoking the courage to keep their hands off the wheel, and retaining the worker's loyalty and energy.  As a manager, I have never done so well as when I stayed out of peoples' way, and got them the resources they need. I keep my hands and feet away from the moving machinery. And I appreciate it very much when my boss does the same.”

In another interview, a line worker said:

“The greatest failures I saw in bosses occurred when they did not give their workers credit for knowing how to do their jobs. I had to laugh at a couple of occasions in my career. Twice, upper management brought in consultants to look at the way we did things and re-invent us. Basically, what the consultants did was what upper management should have been doing: They talked to the production, distribution and sales and office people and made recommendations along the lines of what the people who were doing the jobs suggested!”

According to Helanie Scott, President of Align 4 Profit, the keys to management success are “being sincerely interested in what it takes to engage your staff in a way that gets them to take full accountability and ownership.  To be a successful manager, or leader for that matter, you must be able to be flexible and put your ego in the passenger seat.”

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Michael Holloway is Director of Technical Development and Reliability for NCH Corp, Irving, Texas. He has more than 25 years experience in manufacturing facilities as well as research, product development, quality, maintenance training and technical marketing. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Texas department of Engineering, and has been trained in the Master Black Belt principles of Designing for Six Sigma.

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