20 Reasons Managers Fail

by Ron Haynes

A manager is someone who accomplishes work through others. It isn’t easy. All people. regardless of their background, education, experience, or biases, are different and accomplishing work through them presents it’s own set of challenges.

Success in management is usually the result of making a strong connection with those we’re tasked to manage – and I don’t like using the word “manage” since you manage processes but lead people – a connection that causes the employee to behave in a way that helps move the team forward to achieving the desired results.

For more on becoming a results based leader, try reading 10 Steps to Becoming a Results Based Leader.

So what traits or actions cause a manager to fail?

1. Avoiding responsibility when things go wrong by blaming others.

A good manager stands up and takes responsibility for his area (store, territory, or department). Legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant used to say, “If we win a football game, it was the player’s fault. If we lose, it’s my fault.”

Having a manager who will stand up and take responsibility emboldens the employees who work for him to do the same. A leader who leads by example engenders more loyalty and responsibility out of his team. And when you get right down to it, either the manager is in charge or . . . not.

Action application: Take responsibility. You were put in charge. Everything that happens is your responsibility. Don’t blame others, don’t blame the weather, don’t blame your location or the competition or the economy. Look closely at what is wrong and ask yourself, “How could I have done something (anything) different to achieve the desired results?” If you cannot, in all honesty, come up with something, ask a peer to look at the situation. Get input from employees. Talk to your boss. It will probably impress him or her if you own up to a problem and make it known that you are diligently working on a solution. Find something to do differently; otherwise, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes

Remember, the buck stops with you.

2. Failing to develop and maintain a high level of morale among employees.

Many times, this factor is related to the last one. Morale is a tricky subject. Sometimes there can be a complete turnaround in morale by adding just one upbeat person to the payroll. Other times, seemingly nothing helps.

One of the best ways to insure good morale is to hire happy, positive, goal oriented people. Then clearly communicate to them what results you expect, reward them verbally and financially, and help them set new goals.

Action application: Take the responsibility for the morale level within your area of responsibility. If it is low, you must be the one to change it.

3. Incorrectly identifying solutions to problems.

This is one area that is of high importance if you are to ever be successful in management. We tend to want to treat symptoms rather than finding the root cause of a problem and then we wonder why the problem keeps coming back.

Many times a manager fails to realize that some problems are just annoyances, while others have a real effect on the bottom line. Successful managers are the ones that can pinpoint which problems will have the biggest impact on the bottom line and then focus their energies on uncovering solutions to those problems.

Action application: Learn to get to the root of problems. It is more important to solve the root problem than to solve the surface problem. A real problem is one that affects the bottom line of the business. Ask yourself, how does this affect my bottom line?

4. Unable to effectively deal with people. Shows up as being too blunt, showing favoritism, or being harshly critical. May manifest by making comparisons to other stores, departments, or people.

You’ve heard it before and it bears repeating: It isn’t what you say, but how you say it. There are times that bluntness is needed, but they are rare. More often than not, tactfully dealing with a situation is your best bet.

Action application: Make sure you are dealing fairly with all individuals in your organization. People are acutely sensitive to how they are treated in relation to how someone else is treated. Look at the situation through their eyes and adapt your approach to insure they understand that you are there to help them.

5. Unable to effectively plan and organize. Shows up as getting bogged down with details so that overall planning or organizing isn’t done.

Practice the A-B-C-D-E method to establish your priorities.

An “A” item is a top priority. It is of the utmost important and urgency. Next come the “B” items. These are activities that really should be done at some point. “C” items are those things that would be nice to do, but have no consequence. “D” items are those that you should delegate, and “E” items are those you should eliminate from your To Do list.

Once you have your To Do list prioritized, make sure you never attempt to complete a “B” items if there are “A” items left uncompleted. Never work on a “C” items when there a “B” items left undone.

Action application: Research different time management techniques and find the one that fits your style. The best technique for time management is the one you actually use. Don’t let someone trick you into using a time management method that bogs you down and makes you feel like you’re in bondage. Experiment to find what works for you, then use it.

6. Inflexibility. Will not listen to others. Is completely self-centered.

New managers especially suffer from this problem since they perceive their new role to be authoritarian. This can be compounded if they were trained under an authoritarian, “old school” manager. Managers must listen to others and get input from them. Failure to do so could result in opportunities lost, or in a loss of morale. Many times there are line workers who see inefficiencies on a daily basis and never speak up because in the past, their ideas were ignored, ridiculed, or not even solicited. A manager must listen to others in the organization in order to succeed.

Action application: Listen without interruptions. Listen without thinking of what you’ll say when the other person takes a breath. Listen twice as much as you talk. Ask clarifying questions, but do not ask questions to show off your knowledge or the other person’s lack of it. If you notice that he or she doesn’t seem to know what they’re talking about, you’re not listening.

7. Failing to encourage subordinates to contribute ideas and suggestions.

Playing off of number six, when a manager encourages the contribution of subordinates, he engenders loyalty, finds out how things could be done better, and becomes more of a leader than a supervisor.

New managers especially, believe that they were put into their position because they knew more than the rest of the staff. By falling for this all too common belief, a new manager is setting himself or herself up to fail. Subordinates can be vast reservoirs of knowledge, ideas, and suggestions for improvement. Many times there are people in your department that have decades more experience than you. Listen to them and encourage their input for improvement.

Action application: Again, listen, but go on the offensive and solicit input so you’ll have something to listen to!

8. Neglecting to develop a team effort.

No one can go it alone and survive for any length of time. Manager’s that fail in many cases did so because they were unable or unwilling to develop their team. The reasons can be many but regardless of the reason, a manager who fails to develop a team effort will find that a lack of delegation or a penchant for micro-management will usually be the culprits. Virtually every project undertaken in business today requires the efforts of a team, so failing to develop a sense of belonging among team members will lead to failure.

Action application: Have regular team meetings. Put someone other than you (the manager) in charge of running these. Take the reins if necessary during the meeting, but solicit feedback, encourage group projects, examine the personality traits of each team member and remind them regularly that as a team, you can accomplish your goals much easier.

9. Has a quick temper, is thin-skinned, easily upset, temperamental, or overly sensitive to criticism – real or imagined.

Refuse to be dominated by negative emotions or criticism. My great grandfather used to say, “Son, no one can get your goat if they don’t know where you tie it.” Does your team or department know “where you tie your goat?” Do they know what your hot buttons are? Do they know just when to back off? If the answers are yes, you’ve allowed negative emotions and criticisms in the past to affect your management behavior. Stop it. Now.

Managers must be thick skinned. They must be able to take criticism. They must hold their emotions in check. They must realize the difference between real and imagined criticism. Most criticism is imagined anyway. Don’t let it affect you.

Action application: Step out of yourself for a minute and ask this question. Would I want to work for me? If my direct reports could pick any manager or supervisor in this company, would they pick me? Would anyone in the company pick me? It is time to be brutally honest with yourself and stop making excuses because “that’s just the way I am.”

Resolve today to become the person YOU would want to work for.

10. Failing to think in terms of the entire organizational situation. Doesn’t see the bigger picture. Shows up as being unwilling to cooperate with other departments or managers. Thinks his or her department is the most important to the organization.

“Doesn’t play well with others” doesn’t play well on your performance evaluations either. Failure to see the big picture is a quick road to the failure dump. Every department in an organization is equally important. Too many times the operations people think they are on a different level than the rest of the company. Operations would be unable to function without Purchasing, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Finance, Information Systems, Sales and Marketing, Human Resources, or just about any other department. The company needs all departments equally. None is more important than another.

Action application: Insure that other departments know you’re a team player and that they can count on you for support. Back up your words with actions.

11. Failing to develop subordinates.

Think back to the best manager you ever worked for. Did he or she help you in your development? Failing to develop subordinates can be a sign that a manager isn’t sure he or she SHOULD be in the position they hold because a subordinate that is a shining star below could become the next boss. THAT has happened before, so if you’re willing to invest efforts into developing your subordinates, where will you stand if one of them if promoted over you?

Action application: Develop your direct reports. Show them the steps necessary for promotion. Help them learn from their mistakes and find reasons to publicly praise them.

12. Having a lack of self confidence.

In fact, many of these traits can be traced to this one problem. To develop self confidence, a manager must stick to his or her principles, identify past successes and think about them regularly, be thankful for what he or she currently has, and regularly communicate with someone who acts as a support.

Action application: If you constantly find yourself dwelling on past failures, stop. Force yourself to focus on your past successes instead. Develop a support network of positive individuals who will help you develop self confidence. Stay thankful. Smile. And if all else fails, fake it. That’s right. ACT self confident and you’ll be surprised how you begin to feel the way you act.

13. Lacking ability to express ideas either orally or in writing. Is unable to give clear and concise instructions to employees.

Communication is a vital part of business. It ranks right below “showing up.” If you cannot communicate well, you’re quickly on the road to failure. Make sure your direct reports and subordinates clearly understand what you’re trying to say by telling them to repeat back to you what they heard. You’ll be surprised what you hear.

Action application: Learn to communicate well by practice, by taking courses at a local school or community college, and by having people repeat what they heard from you.

14. Lacking follow-through. Doesn’t check to see that instructions are complied with, that performance standards are met and that objectives are reached.

Follow through is another vital part of being and becoming a great manager. The best managers follow up on a regular basis and they always surprise people with what they remember. Make yourself a legend in your own company by developing a system to follow through with commitments and follow up on subordinates.

Action application: Whether you use a day planner, a PDA, or just a little spiral notebook, make notes during the day of what items you need to follow up on. Then do it.

15. Resisting change and is unwilling or afraid to try new ideas. Shows up as a resistance to training opportunities for the staff or for the manager.

I have no idea why, but there actually are managers who think no one needs any more training. I’m sure there are some positions that don’t, but everyone needs the occasional refresher course. Consistent training is a sure way to insure your staff is up to date with the latest concepts and product knowledge.

Action application: Take the initiative when it comes to training. Seek out training opportunities for you and your staff. Make sure every member of your staff is involved in some type of training at least once per year.

16. Is a poor decision maker. Procrastinates in making decisions or jumps to conclusions. Takes action without thinking through all possible reactions. May use emotions to make decisions.

Napoleon Hill once said that, in his observations of the most successful people in the world, “Successful people make decisions quickly (as soon as all pertinent information is available) and change them slowly. Unsuccessful people make decisions slowly and change them quickly and often.” The way to develop decisiveness is with the next decision you face. Gather all pertinent information but don’t let this step bog you down. There is a point of diminishing returns with information gathering. I’ve seen companies lose vast sums of money because of emotional decision making. Don’t let this happen to you.

Action application: Make a decision as soon as all pertinent information is available but don’t fall into the paralysis of analysis trap. Make your decisions based on fact, not emotion.

17. Is unable to follow instructions. Fails to listen or ask questions when needed to clarify a situation.

Here is the communication example again. Good managers can not only give clear instructions, they can follow them. A good manager will ask clarifying questions if there is any ambiguity. Then he or she follows those instructions and follows through with commitments.

Action application: Here is another opportunity for a good manager to shine. Insure that you understand what is expected of you and ask questions if you do not understand. Further, ask for feedback and input at the 33% and 67% completion marks. By doing this, you will be getting instructions at four separate times during a project.

18. Is disloyal to the organization, its employees, superiors, ideals. Shows or expresses contempt for policies, superiors, or departments.

No boss likes disloyalty. There is no excuse for this type of behavior.

Action application: If you do not like something about your company or organization, work to change it from the inside with the intent to make the organization better able to generate profits. If the changes are impossible to make, look for employment elsewhere, but leave on good terms.

19. Lacking motivation. Is not a self starter. Has to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done.

The manager who fits this description isn’t a manager but an employee who needs constant supervision.

Motivation comes in three varieties: fear motivation, reward motivation: and that special type of individual who is motivated by personal pride. What motivates you?

Action application: Figure out what motivates you and communicate this to your boss (within reason, of course). Learn to motivate yourself by thinking about how you feel when you’ve completed a job well.

20. Dislikes added responsibilities. Fails to prepare for larger responsibilities and growth.

Managers who climb the ladder of success are those who work to increase their responsibilities. Accomplishing more and more will get you more and more pay, more and more recognition, and more and more of a sense of accomplishment.

Action application: Seek ways to increase the amount of responsibility you have. Occasionally, you should just take the responsibility. If you find an area of deficiency at work and you’re qualified to take care of it, tell your boss what you see and suggest that you handle it. Don’t worry if you don’t get that assignment. Try to get another one. Don’t give up trying to become a better person by increase the amount of responsibility you have.

What reasons would you add?

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.