“Great managers do not look for people who are easy to manage. They look for people who have the talent to be world class.”

This is a line from this week’s featured book, the oldie-but-goodie titled “First, Break All The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham, et al. It is a book about the conventional manager, as defined in 1999, and how leaders must break out of that mold. The book is nearly twenty years old. A relic. And it’s sad to think that much of its observations still apply today.

This is why I review older books. Any of the information that is still relevant points to deeper issues and timeless commensurate principles. In this case, the issue at-hand involves managers who embody the antithesis of the quoted line—managers who seek control rather than performance. Great managers want talented people. They get a thrill in building a great team. But I’ve witnessed, in myself and other managers, the desire to avoid talented people since they can’t be easily contained.

Why is this?  

It starts with the Peter Principle. In the beginning, high performers are promoted to management and enter a new game, one that requires a totally different set of skills. What made us great before won’t make us great now. We have to learn new skills and others have to suffer our incompetence until we do.

For the former high performer, incompetence manifests in a desire to control every aspect of the work. After all, we high performers are still accustomed to doing the work ourselves. We’re very good at it. We know what works. So it’s our way or the highway. Micromanagement ensues and the best, most talented people (the other high performers) leave because they can’t perform at their desired level anymore.

But where do these outcast high performers go? If they’re lucky, they go to a place with real managers—the kind who value talent and know how to support it. Those managers are rare, though. A lot of the talented ones are still left out and these outcasts are faced with little choice but to go become managers, too. Micromanagers, that is. And so the cycle continues.  

Bad managers start with bad subconscious intentions. Deep down, they don’t want to lead. They don’t want to support. They just want to call the shots because their way of doing things obviously works and they can’t stand being micromanaged themselves so they’ll micromanage others instead.

In other words, these managers don’t look for talent. They consider themselves to be the talent. It’s like a sports coach who gets too arrogant and thinks he can win it all by himself.

Sure, there’s insecurity, too. Immaturity. A lack of exposure and understanding of the role. But ultimately, the quoted line for this week’s book makes me think of all the high performers who just couldn’t let go. That was me now and then. I think I’m getting over it. But only by eliminating my identify as a high performer and taking, instead, the identity of the person who guides them, develops them, and sets the standard.

There’s no external glory in being a great manager. Just fulfillment. Until that is enough, the high-performer-turned-manager makes everyone suffer.

Image by Pat David