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    It is hard to find successful managers according to science

    Jimi Wikman

    In an article in the Swedish newspaper DN it is proclaimed that it is difficult to find successful managers, even if we spend a lot of money on leadership training. The research looked into middle management and could not find any scientific proof of increased success. This is not surprising since there are very few correlations between managers and leaders after all.

    The article is critical towards the trend of managers taking classes to become better leaders. As leadership is not something you can learn I kind of agree with that, but at the same time anyone can improve the chances of becoming a leader if they know how to. By educating yourself on what a leader is and is not, then you can take steps to move towards leadership. This however is often wasted on managers as they are to far away from the employees to actually make much of difference.

    There is also nothing wrong in not being a great leader. Managers that does not lead groups of people directly often do the "boring stuff". This includes budgets, resource planning, contract negotiations, stakeholder relations and a whole lot of sales discussions. This is not something that you need leadership skills for. You need authority and organization skills. This is an extremely important role to have.

    I know several managers that are the absolute best in the world that I would never let lead a development team for example. They are exceptional managers, but no leaders. Then I know of a few managers that are not great managers, but great leaders. Lastly you have the saddest bunch of them all and that is the group that are amazing leaders that are terrible at management. These are completely wasted in a management position.

    I know that saying that leaders and managers are not the same is not 100% true because they share certain traits. Regardless if you are a manager or a leader you need the ability to communicate and to have a clear message (even if it is wrong).  Where a leader should inspire and lead by example a manager need to communicate a vision and a direction. Managers direct the workforce towards a goal and the leader makes sure the road to get there are enjoyable and productive.

    So the fact that this study did not find any proof of successful leaders among middle management is kind of normal. Increased knowledge of leadership does not make management leaders. It makes them more understanding of leadership and hopefully it means that they will work better with the leaders. That in turn would improve the working conditions for the workforce if all goes well. If a middle manager would become a great leader then by definition it get isolated as that person often have others between themselves and the workforce. Those leaders can be bad leaders so even if the middle manager inspire them to greatness, it will not reach the workforce.

    We should also recognize that most managers are completely buried in work and often are forced to content switching that cause stress. That alone prevent room to actually lead as they are jumping from one area to the next with little to no pause for reflection or processing. It is very difficult to develop any form of leadership skills in such environments. This is also a cause for poor decision making that we will discuss in another article.

    To become a better leader require a profound change of self. This is not something that can be done by anyone else as you do not develop compassion and respect in a classroom. That comes from within as part of growth of self. This can be triggered by education of course, but the actual transformation happen within. If you are a greedy, self centered, performance driven individual with low empathy then no matter what you do you will never be a great leader. It is as simple as that.

    Does this mean that the many leadership training's that exist out there are worthless? I do not think so. Understanding what good leadership is will make more people strive towards that. The fact that we see so many articles, training classes and blog posts about leadership is forcing organizations to evolve. We no longer accept bad leadership and especially in the IT world people will leave companies with bad leadership for companies with good leadership.

    This put pressure on many organizations, but it is important to understand the difference between a manager and a leader.  Today I think we mix them together and many managers feel that they are bad leaders. The thing is that this is ok, as long as they are great managers and they make sure all work forces have a great leader. This leader does not have to have a title, just the trust and respect of the work force they lead. If you have that and everyone understand the dynamic in the work force then things will be great for all involved.

    In theory at least 🙂


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