Unsuccessful Managers - Typing and Coaching

by Kent Noel

In football, the transition from star quarterback to winning coach is often not an easy one. The same can be said of a professional being promoted from high-performing staff person to a management role. Yet, many are motivated to make this challenging leap.

For some, it's about ambition and advancement. For others, it involves wanting to work fewer hours and strike a better balance between job and family. Still others want an opportunity to give back to the organization and develop the next generation of successful performers. Whatever the reason, many feel up to the challenge but not all will succeed.

The successful ones tend to proactively seek out mentoring, access a variety of resources, learn by trial and error, and grow in the management role as they go. Those who fail are typically somewhat rigid and fall back on stylistic preferences that worked well for them in the past. These individuals often find themselves being referred for coaching, and during the course of consultation a number of types typically emerge:

The Natural

Falvey (1994) stated that high performers "...often cannot explain or teach the dynamics that made them successful to others." Some people are intuitively good at what they do and either cannot or will not reflect upon or articulate the qualities that make them successful. In short, they are unconsciously competent.

As managers, they tend to lead by example. During their coaching sessions, they recollect being quite hands-on and heavily involved during implementation. Assessment often reveals high drive scores and a strong "doing" orientation. They frequently stifle growth in subordinates due to their inability to teach, skill build, or delegate responsibilities clearly.

The Enlisted Person

Becoming a manager is like being a military officer in the sense that you are no longer one of the troops. You can be friendly and supportive with your subordinates, but can no longer be their friend. Professional boundaries are essential.

Russo (2005) noted that one of the ten fatal errors managers make is that they try to be a buddy, not a coach. During assessment, these types tend to score high on empathy and influence and often refer to their subordinates as friends. Here, the growth of a manager's team can be inhibited in that individuals often have trouble performing optimally for a manager they view more as a peer than as a supervisor.

The Numbers Person

Many individuals progress in their careers feeling that they are only as good as their last month or quarter. As a result, they tend to be very numbers-conscious; some corporate cultures even encourage this, especially sales-driven environments. However, some take this to the extreme. During developmental sessions, they tend to evaluate themselves in terms of profits, expenses, and reduced loss ratios, not people skills. Testing often reveals individuals who are very utilitarian, analytical, impersonal, and driven.

Russo (2005) noted that as managers, these people also tend to rank subordinates only by revenue or other financials. This, in turn, creates a climate where subordinates "flounder into isolation and alienation." They focus solely on their own performance, afraid to exchange ideas out of concern for losing their place in rank. Morale and camaraderie suffer, and with it also performance.

The Self-Promoter

In coaching sessions, this type is often the easiest to identify. "I" and "me" tend to be a big part of both their vocabulary and their mindset. They also frequently refer to themselves in the third person and are often poor listeners. Many openly view entry-level management as a quick stepping-stone to an executive position. The focus is largely on their own advancement, not on preparing their people for next steps professionally.

Assessment typically reveals high social dominance, assertiveness, and self-promoting scores. They tend to be inaccessible, but can be quite heavy-handed when expectations are not being met. These managers do not want anything to reflect negatively back on them. They tend to take themselves very seriously. However, their agenda is often quite transparent, and subordinates learn very quickly that their own growth and development is not the main emphasis.

The "One Size Fits All" Manager

Blanchard (1999) noted that the most successful leaders are those who recognize the readiness level of each subordinate and tailor their approach accordingly. But many managers struggle greatly with this. Out of an exaggerated desire for even-handedness, some want to coach and support everyone equally. Others want to be very directive and hands-on with all of their people. Whatever their stylistic preferences, these "One Size Fits All" managers end up either not giving new people enough direction or giving the more seasoned team members too much. Either way, many are left unhappy.

In conceptualizing and typing managers in this way, it is important to keep in mind that typing in no way means pigeonholing. Everyone is capable of growth provided the will to do so is present. It is when the career development professional is able to identify clients' ineffective patterns of behavior and make these known to the individual (minus negative labels), that a starting point for discussion, development, and growth is created. Awareness is often the important first step in coaching.


Blanchard, K. (1999). Situational leadership II. The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Falvey, J. (1994, December). Wishful thinking: why do great salespeople often fail as managers? Sales & Marketing Management.

Rosso, J. (2005, July). Ten fatal errors sales manager make. Techyvent Pittsburgh.

Kent Noel, Ph.D., L.P.C., is a consultant, technical writer, and career counselor with Carr & Associates, a firm in Overland Park, KS offering a comprehensive set of consulting services to assist with the human factors of business. Reach Kent at: kent.noel@carrassessment.com; visit his company's website at: www.carrassessment.com.

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