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Knowing the manager you really are

Paul Glen | Dec. 15, 2016
We all have distorted self-perceptions, but that can be especially harmful in a manager

Nearly everyone thinks his or her performance is above average. You don’t have to be a statistician to know that nearly half of them must be wrong.

Managers are no different when it comes to this distorted self-perception. The problem is that managers’ misconceptions prevent them from learning and becoming better at their jobs. Worse than that, their deficiencies impose burdens on so many others: subordinates, peers, supervisors and outside stakeholders. If you’re a manager, it’s worth investing some energy to make sure that you have an accurate picture of your strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t worry about the psychological processes that can lead to such misperceptions. Although the debates about that are interesting, what is important is to know that it is overwhelmingly likely that you have unreliable beliefs about the quality of your management. I’m not saying that you are a terrible manager and don’t know it. In fact, you might be better than you perceive yourself to be. Either way, having an unrealistic self-assessment is not a weakness; it’s just part of being human.

As an IT management consultant who has had the opportunity to talk with many technical managers around the world, I have noticed that most managers use two primary indicators to judge their own performance. Unfortunately, neither is a particularly reliable metric.

Task success

What I most often see is managers assessing themselves positively based on whether their team finished their tasks. “We finished the project, so I must be a good manager.” “We met our service-level targets for the month, so I must be a good manager.” “We managed that downtime crisis and restored service, so I must be a good manager.” When managers focus on this indicator, they typically ignore all others.

Any team that meets its task goals deserves praise, but does it necessarily follow that that the team owes its success to its manager? Looked at that way, the fallacy becomes clear. Some groups deliver because of a small number of high-performing contributors who are able to shut out the chaos around them. Others deliver despite their managers, not because of them.

And many times, managers who are focused on task success will use methods that incur costs, possibly even undermining the future capabilities of the group. They might drive away talented employees by creating toxic work environments, deliberately pitting people against one another and empowering subgroups that encourage internal conflict. They reward people who perform well but behave badly.

And they destroy relationships with stakeholders. They squander hard-earned trust by playing hardball politics. They hide important information, lie in order to manipulate decision making or intimidate others by overwhelming them with jargon and details.


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