Why Managers Stop Their Best Employees From Growing
Managers yearn for the day they can rely on one of their employees to step up and help out with some of their more meticulous tasks. Managers see it as an opportunity to push the time allotted to complete these tasks off to their most trustworthy and skilled employees, assuming their to do lists will now be met with infinite doses of productivity and freedom to take on larger projects.
The challenges of splitting responsibilities
While all of this does transpire in some capacity, the change itself also comes with a new set of challenges; the most complicated of which is how the manager will operate with less responsibility, less recognition, and less attachment to projects, and what impact that has on their job.
All is well if the manager is secure about their new situation, but what if the manager becomes insecure about their employee’s growth? What if the employee learns the ropes so fast and so well that the manager’s role becomes obsolete, or at least appears obsolete?
It’s reasonable then to wonder whether growth for both team members will be attainable or if both members are simply on a collision course that will result in one member’s growth inadvertently being stifled for the other’s.
Giving up a competitive advantage
The truth is, giving away tasks to a direct report is always a risky move for a manager, because managing tasks establishes in many ways a competitive advantage. This competitive advantage can range from receiving actionable data from larger projects, gaining helpful insight of the day-to-day, and solidifying visibility among stakeholders – which in most cases are factors that can help with securing promotions, raises, and recognition.
As one could imagine, this could result in insecurity and frustration for both team members. The manager would want to maintain their stature while the employee would want to rise out from the manager’s shadow, hence the pending collision course that could very well lead the manager to taking direct or indirect action to stop their employee from growing.
According to an interview with the Harvard Business Review and an organizational psychologist, “the higher you go in an organization, the more you’re expected to make decisions on which you might not have direct experience or expertise.”
Principles to Remember:
- Talk to your manager about the attributes you bring to your role
- Find a way to add value to your team and help employees advance their careers
- Step back and enable employees to do their jobs without meddling too much
- Ignore feelings of insecurity; confront your negative emotions and seek advice on how to deal with them
- Feel threatened by your direct report’s specialized knowledge; instead seek opportunities to learn from him
- Be arrogant; if you come across as overconfident, your team won’t trust you
While this may be an expectation, the reality of the matter is this: no manager wants to appear as having less experience or expertise than a direct report. This is due to the manager’s lack of job security, insecurity about skills, and need to maintain power.
At the end of the day this may keep the manager stable in his or her position, but it inevitably prevents the employee from growing in theirs.
Lack of job security
In this capitalistic society you are only as valuable as how valuable people perceive you to be. If a manager sees their direct report excelling in a way where it outshines their own work, the manager might find themselves concerned about their job security.
So much so that it might incentivize some managers from excluding their employee from certain meetings as a means of commanding control, limiting the employee’s visibility. This is because it’s dangerous to your job security to have a higher-up thinking you’re replaceable.
Is there any room to improve team performance? (Hint: The answer to this question is always “yes.)”
Once that bubble gets burst, it’s very difficult to reframe. It doesn’t help that many companies follow the “20-70-10 rule” of firing the most underperforming 10% of employees, so the thought of finding yourself in that 10% threshold can be pretty overwhelming, resulting in more stress and more conflict (and usually disengaged employees).
Trying to stabilize your role as a manager while containing your direct report’s ascendence is a double-edged sword that hurts the employee’s morale and chances for growth.
Insecurity about skills
We also understand true value as the value of a person’s skills and the holistic impact those skills have on organization design — this is why wages differ between someone like a tutor and someone like a hedge fund manager.
A tutor may have the skills in any moment to teach an individual, a class, or an organization a set of actionable insights regarding multiple subjects; a hedge fund manager may have the skills to calculate a unique investment that generates millions of dollars in a given day. Thus, different sets of skills create different outcomes.
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Furthermore, a manager may feel that another team member’s skills to a company have a larger impact, in particular if that impact is the act of generating more revenue, and therefore will feel insecure that they themselves provide less value and are more expendable. That insecurity pressures a manager to stifle the direct report nearing that person’s position, which negatively impacts the direct report’s potential for growth – it’s no wonder why so many employees resent the HR department for not being able to proactively fix these issues.
The need to maintain power
No one enjoys giving up their power; just ask yourself why so few incumbent politicians ever choose to not run for re-election. Most people want power and they want to hold on to it for as long as they can — it’s just human nature.
But here’s another reason why the aspect of power, or being in a position of leadership, is so appealing to people: it gives them freedom. Managers want to maintain power and they may see the rise of a direct report as a threat to their power. But more than the mitigation of power is the impact it has on an individual’s freedom. In essence, more power begets more freedom.
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Freedom allows an individual to plan his or her schedule, daily tasks, and priorities. When a manager shares responsibilities with another team member, the manager no longer has unilateral control over the decision-making – that means less power and less freedom.
It also means less credit for successful projects since that credit is now shared. Most importantly, it means that the manager no longer possess the freedom to do whatever he or she wants. While this may be a good thing for the company as a whole, it makes things more difficult for the manager, which only gets passed down to the direct report one way or another.
It’s natural for conflicts to arise when growth occurs between multiple members on a given team, especially if those team members possess different responsibilities and salaries. Between a manager on an apparent decline and a coordinator experiencing rapid growth in his or her level of performance, the probability of a collision course taking place are very high.
It’s important for both individuals to recognize the three reasons why managers stop their best employees from growing. To fix this, they together can be vulnerable with each other, express their concerns, and hopefully come to a common ground.
It will be on the manager to confront issues and express value, and it will fall on the direct report to be confident while also respectful – only then will growth be sustainable and frictionless.
Alex Sal is a contributing writer for Markitors.com