The Gobbledygook of Management

A recent Gallup study on the “State of American Managers” states, “Only one in ten people have the high talent level to effectively manage others. Another two in ten have functioning managerial talent”. They go on to explain that the two in ten that show functional abilities can be coached and mentored, and will eventually reach the high talent level.

A high talent manager excels in the areas of motivation, assertiveness, accountability, relationships and decision-making.

I was greatly encouraged to read this article, as clearly I am the one in ten with a natural ability to lead. The problem is that all managers who have read this report believe they are each that special one in ten.

I have to admit part of me was worried that I might be one of the two in ten. That is okay because I might not be up to par, but I can be salvaged through intensive coaching and the support and supervision of a dedicated mentor.

The math tells me another story. There is a seventy percent chance that I am one of the seven and that there is little to no hope of rehabilitation. I am, according to Gallup, a lost cause.

What sense does the Gallup study make? Is the management die cast at birth? If the management gene mutates and the biometrics are no longer acceptable – is the door to management closed permanently?

The specter of eugenics still lingers, but recent studies have shown that genetics do play a role in some instances. A person who is 6 foot 8 inches has a better chance as a basketball player than the 5-foot person does. Height is only one genetic characteristic that might be a determining factor for success.

There are some studies examining musical ability among fraternal and identical twins. The studies show that genes do play a role in musical talent, but only to a certain extent. They found that70% of a person’s music talent is comprised of hard work.

There is a lot of room for people to develop their full potential no matter what is encoded on their DNA.

The Gallup study outlines the five dimensions of a manager’s talent. They are Motivator, Assertiveness, Accountability, Relationships and Decision Making. In my last post I talked about the risks and pressures of Decision Making.

Gallup defines the Motivator in the High-Talent Manager model as follows:

“They challenge themselves and their teams to continually improve and deliver distinguished performance.

Limited-Talent Managers are defined as follows: “They lack excitement and expectations for outcomes and allow team performance to stagnate.”

The two terms that caught my attention were “distinguished performance” and “lack of excitement.”

Management articles cannot resist the urge to add language that is pure gobbledygook,  “distinguished performance” is unadulterated dripple. It hints at competence, but lacks any clarity of meaning. It confuses the reader with its vagueness and plants the seed of desire. We now long for “distinguished performance” in others and ourselves without knowing what it means. The worst outcome is that it slips into our everyday lexicon. I silently grind my teeth we I hear phrases like, “Their distinguished performance leveraged a paradigm shift generating a new synergy between our departments. The commitment to core competencies and overall buy-in has create a win-win and we see a marked increase in our KPI’s”.

“Lack of excitement” sounds accusatory and is an undesirable characteristic. This statement brings a little shadow of doubt. Am I excited enough or do I need to fabricate more excitement? The absurdity of this statement is clear if you think about flip side being continuous and unrelenting excitement. Imagine Will Farrell in the movie Elf when he hears that Santa is coming. Instead of excitement, how about “work hard and do your best?”

Hyperbolic management language is an indication that someone has nothing to say. I am going to try to get some clarity around the idea of motivation by asking the question.

“Can we learn and develop the skills needed to motivate ourselves and the teams we manage?”

Since the business literature is littered with opinions, pundits, gurus and stories that celebrate success and fail to provide context, perspective or helpful data I am ignoring this content.

I want facts, and the best place to find this information to is to look at scientific research A third theory looks at a hybrid of both theories.

There is shared agreement about motivation from all theories. I am going to paraphrase the findings from “Motivation Theory in Educational Practice: Knowledge Claims Challenges, and Future Directions” by Avi Kaplan, Idit Katz and Hanoch Flum.

I have changed the specific language that refers to academics while attempting to keep the core meaning of their research

  1. Develop and assign tasks and activities that are personally meaningful and relevant to the staff you manage.
  2. Develop and assign moderately challenging tasks and learning opportunities.
  3. Promote and give control and autonomy whenever possible. Avoid controlling or coercive language.
  4. Encourage mastery rather than just performing a task.
  5. Set achievable goals and talk about those goals together.
  6. Create moments of fun, play and humor.
  7. Provide feedback, and talk about progress and ask questions that provide reflection.
  8. Assess staff’s skill set and skill levels. Set realistic expectations

I believe every manager can work on these areas with their staff. I think this work is part of our own development as managers. I know that skills can be developed and honed throughout our lives.

I am not a big fan of Nietzsche but I did like this quote and I think it sums up our true potential. I have changed it to make it gender neutral.

“At bottom every person knows well enough that they are a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as they are, ever be put together a second time.”