Why Making Your Employees Fail Makes You A Better Manager

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How to Manage Arrogant Employees

There is a reason why employee development is a constant topic among management teams.  After all, in addition to being responsible for getting a job done, we as managers are also tasked with the growth and development of our employees.  This part of the job, though, is especially hard when we have an arrogant employee who doesn’t believe he or she needs to improve.  What can we do to get through to these employees?  What techniques can we use to help type of worker learn?  Let’s take a closer look at how challenging employees helps them grow.

Employee Development: The Basic Idea

Developing employees involves more than just sending them to a training class from time to time, or giving them feedback once a year during their performance review.  Rather, developing employees is really an ongoing activity during which managers must assign deliberate projects and provide constant mentoring to their staff.  Regular coaching topics may include technical skills for the job and the employee’s quality of work.  They may also include softer skills like communication styles, decision-making ability, and their level of professionalism.  One additional source of mentoring is on the employee’s sense of humility (their ability to recognize that they will make mistakes) so that they can learn from them.  In addition to this regular mentoring,  special stretch assignments also serve as great teaching opportunities and allow employees to prepare for future roles.

Why First-Time Managers Struggle to Develop Employees

In the 1986 article The Derailment of Fast-Track Managers by Barbara E. Kovach, the author discusses how many first-time managers struggle making the transition into management.  The cause, Kovach points out, is because those skills that made them successful as individuals – resourcefulness, hard work and self-motivation – actually make them weaker as managers.  This is because people in positions of management must obtain results through their teams and cannot be the sole cause of success.  According to Kovach, realizing this important point and becoming skilled at it getting results through others is a common challenge faced by first-time supervisors.  And it usually requires one to make many mistakes before they get the hang of it.

Dealing with an Arrogant Employee: A Real Example

The article reminded me of a former employee of mine.  This employee came out of a corporate leadership program that gave a select group of youthful, highly talented people within the company great exposure to the business.  These individuals were fast-track employees, and deservedly so.  All graduates I saw from the program were very bright and had tremendous leadership potential.

This one employee, we’ll call him David, fit the typical mold.  He was extremely energetic, passionate and intelligent.  He learned extremely fast and no doubt had a bright career ahead of him.  The problem, though, was that his executive sponsor for the program took a particular interest in David’s career due to a family connection.  As a result, the executive sponsor routinely put David at the top of every list and built up David’s self-confidence to the point where David was unable to see his own mistakes.

When David graduated from the program, he took a job within my team.  He did well overall, but as Kovach would describe, his success was based on his own energy and drive.  Despite David’s skills and ability to perform, his inexperience led to many mistakes and errors in his work.  Even after several coaching discussions, David typically refused to acknowledge these mistakes and rarely took responsibility for his errors.

As time went by, David’s executive sponsor continued to provide support for David, coaching him on how to excel and move up the corporate ladder.  As this continued, David developed a sense of entitlement and his arrogance grew.  But for me as his manager, it became increasingly difficult to manage someone who could not see his own mistakes.  In some cases, David was not allowed to make a mistake and learn from it – his sponsor was always there providing a safety net.

Though he was a difficult employee to manage, David and I had a good relationship and talked openly to one another.  After two years on my team, David took his first managerial position, thanks again to his sponsor. When he left, I told David he had a major professional blind spot: he didn’t know how to fail.  Moreover, he did not know what that felt like, and more importantly, how to learn from it.  He was moving into a position where he would have make decisions, but had little experience to understanding the consequences of such decisions.  How did he expect to get results through others, when he had such a blind spot on his own work.  David remained in that position for four years, but had little success.

Why Failure Is a Great Teacher

Kovach’s article reminded me of managing David.  As talented and bright as he was, the disservice his executive sponsor had done left David ill-equipped to step into a managerial role so soon.

We often hear about stretch assignments as a great way to develop staff.  The reason stretch assignments are so effective is because the employee will struggle and inevitably make mistakes.  But making those mistakes help them learn from them.  The experience of failure is not futile.  Failure teaches employees how to better make their own decisions and how to weigh various risks and trade-offs.  David’s arrogance was a personal and professional weakness, which impacted the rest of my team who had to help fix the problems he created.

As the old adage goes, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link.  When it comes to managing an organization, the stronger we make our people, the individual links, the stronger our team becomes.  By enabling your employees to fail under close watch, you will create a stronger, more capable organization.


Looking for More on Employee Development?  You Might Like…

The Art of Mentoring

How to Develop Other Managers

29 Fantastic Ways to Develop Your Staff

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