Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Middle Managers Need to “Fire” Themselves as Supervisors

There are rich leadership lessons to be learned from politics and sports. Given that I try to avoid politics in this blog, please allow me the indulgence of referencing a headline from my favorite sport to make a point about leadership:

Chiefs' Romeo Crennel fires himself ... as team's defensive coordinator.

For those of you that don’t follow the National Football League (or sports), Crennel is the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, the worst team in the NFL right now. He recently decided he needed to relinquish his duties of calling the plays on defense in order to focus on his Head Coaching duties.

In response to this headline, a former player (I didn’t catch who it was) was asked on a sports talk radio show “Why do so many great Coordinators make such lousy Head Coaches”?

I thought his answer was simple but  brilliant, and gets to the heart of one of the biggest and oldest mistakes middle or senior managers make when they get promoted. He said something to the effect of:
“It’s because they don’t realize that their job is to coach coaches, not players.”
The reason they were such great Coordinators is because they were good at motivating and developing their players. As a Head Coach, they need to make a shift to motivating and developing their coaches, as well as focusing on big picture responsibilities like media and public relations, scouting, and other administrative responsibilities.
They get in trouble because they continue to do what they loved to do and what made them so successful – working with players. They think they can do both – usually by working ridiculous hours and sleeping at the office. Many of them also neglect their health and families.

Crennel is just one recent example of a Head Coach that got himself in trouble by refusing to let go of his old job. Other examples include Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett, Norv Turner (not fired yet, but has been), Greg Williams, Jack Del Rio, Todd Haley, Dick Jauren, Josh McDaniels, Steve Spagnuolo, and Mike Mularkey.
All of these coaches, besides being fired as head coaches, had one thing in common – they were outstanding Offensive or Defensive Coordinators. Many of them tried to combine their old jobs with their new jobs. Some even hired new Coordinators and still micromanaged their old responsibilities. They not only sabotaged their own careers, but they retarded the development of promising developing Coordinators.

OK, so now let’s step away from the world of sports of apply these lessons to leadership in general. If you’re a middle or senior manager, how many of you are still managing your old employees and not leading your organization by managing your supervisors or managers?
If you’re being completely honest, I’ll bet a lot. I see it all the time – a great sales manager gets promoted because they were great at managing sales reps, and then works around their sales managers to try to coach and motivate 8-10 times as many reps. It’s one of the oldest and most frequent recipes for failure!

Managing managers is way different that managing individual contributors. According to Charon, Drotter, and Noel, from their classic book The Leadership Pipeline, the most important things middle managers need to do are:
1. Select and hire capable first-line managers

2. Hold first-line managers accountable for managerial work

3. Deploy and redeploy resources among units

4. Manage the boundaries that separate units that report directly and with other parts of the business.

Unfortunately, while many organizations provide training for first-line managers, not many train their managers how to manage managers.
Do yourself a favor, and learn from Romeo Crennel – fire yourself from your former position before someone fires you from your new position.

1 comment:

Xiaoteng Ma said...

Great thought, Dan. I've never really looked at the issue like this before. The example about the head coach definitely makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!