How Good Managers Sometimes Get It Wrong

The thorniest management problems in organizations are sometimes caused by the managers with the best intentions.

“We go in as consultants to organizations and realize that there are all these fiefdoms. And behind every fiefdom is a manager who has essentially ‘gone native.’ They have made their group more important than the greater good,” says master certified coach Madeleine Homan Blanchard.

Mid-level managers walk a fine line, explains Blanchard. “People need to be able to depend on their boss, but it should never be set up as an either/or situation. Your job as a manager is to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the organization. It’s tough and challenging at times but you have to do it.”

Blanchard believes that there are many reasons why managers go native.

Sometimes it’s simply being human. Some managers just want to be liked. Sometimes they’ll end up trying to be a friend instead of a manager to meet personal needs. But more often managers will go native because it seems like they are being emotionally intelligent, paying attention to how people respond, and moderating their behavior, which are all good ideas.

Smart bosses and smart employees who look at the situation objectively will see that while it might feel good in the short-term, if bosses overinvest in the success of a single group or individual, it is going to cost them in the long run because the contribution to the greater good isn't being weighed against the interests of the larger group.

As Blanchard explains, “If a manager gets too protective, he or she can protect himself or herself and their group right out of a job. So the real art is in keeping the organizations’ requirements front and center while working with your people to brainstorm the best way for successfully navigating them. And being clear about what is and what is not optional.”

Have you crossed the line as a manager?

Wondering if you—or other leaders in your organization—are exhibiting signs of crossing the line and going native? Here are a couple of the behaviors that Blanchard has seen that might be worth closer examination.

  1. In strategic meetings with senior leaders and peers, you first make arguments and decisions based on the extent to which your people will or will not benefit.
  2. When your employees complain about being too busy, or overwhelmed, you take it at face value without rolling up your sleeves and checking out the claim.
  3. After ample discussion, sharing of information and context, and offering appropriate support for change, you tolerate bad attitudes or resistance from your people.
  4. You allow or even sometimes support an “us vs. them” point of view that pits your group or department against another department or the organization as a whole.
  5. You’ve lost track or faith in your organization’s vision and goals, and decided that the success of your team is your priority.
  6. Your team processes feature systems so customized around individuals that a new person stepping in would shake their head trying to figure out the personalized nature of the work.
  7. You allow a productivity gap to continue within your department because you don’t want to offend or possibly damage a relationship.

Deal with it directly

Ready to bring yourself or others back into balance? Blanchard recommends a very direct approach.

“Because it is a paradox we are dealing with and it's so subtle, I think the only way to deal with it is directly,” says Blanchard.

And surprisingly, the same approach you use with managers who have gone native is the same strategy they need to use with their people.

  1. Sit down with the manager and share what you are seeing. “Here is what I’ve seen. Here is the evidence. Here is what needs to change.”
  2. Review the goals of the organization. Show how the work of the manager’s department interacts with the organization as a whole.
  3. Gain commitment on making the behavior changes that are necessary. Make sure that you have agreement on what needs to change and how.
  4. Follow up in a relatively short period of time to check on progress, obstacles, or new challenges that pop up.

Regain your balance

Well-intentioned managers are familiar with the other side of the story—where the leadership is ruthless and the people are seen as just cogs in the organization. Don’t let that keep you from striking the right balance in managing the work of others. It's results and people; it’s not either/or.

Even in a people-centered organization, you can’t let people issues prevent the organization from taking otherwise smart, necessary, and strategic moves. Bring native managers back into balance. Create a path where they can meet the needs of their people and the organization.


Would you like to learn more about some of the mistakes that well-intentioned managers make? Then join us for a free webinar!

3 Mistakes Good Managers Make—And How to Avoid Them

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
9:00–10:00 a.m. Pacific, 12:00–1:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00–6:00 p.m. GMT

Join master certified coach Madeleine Homan Blanchard as she looks at some of the common mistakes that managers with even the best intentions make. Drawing on her experience helping hundreds of high-potential leaders, you’ll learn about some of the unproductive behaviors well-meaning managers sometimes fall into, including

  • Rationalizing behavioral challenges posed by a star performer. Making exceptions for one person that you wouldn’t normally make.
  • Not providing developmental or negative feedback. Avoiding challenging conversations. Not confronting problems. Accepting excuses for poor behavior. Ignoring a bad attitude.
  • Allowing people to break small rules. Not keeping people focused on achieving team, department, and organization goals.

In this session, you’ll learn how to

  • Identify the bad behaviors good managers sometimes tolerate
  • Look at the underlying causes of well intended errors and how to address them
  • Get people back on track

Find out how to achieve the right balance between managing the needs of the organization together with the needs of your people. You’ll learn how to align the interests of both in a way that gets work done while building people up and creating an engaging work environment.

Don’t miss this opportunity to discover how to successfully manage results and people by aligning your actions to your intentions.

View On-demand