Why managers fail – what lies behind their most common mistakes?

In the previous two articles (1; 2) about the most common management mistakes (what leads to faulty management) we have listed 11 counterproductive behaviors in total which are the usual reasons why managers and leaders fail. While most would agree with the list, it would also be useful to look into the reasons behind those behaviors, or rather why they happen so often in the first place.

The first thing that should be noted here is that these behaviors are actually overused strengths. What does that mean? That means that the same tendencies which cause the detrimental behaviors also enable the person to overcome obstacles, avoid mistakes and conflict, get ahead, inspire others, be perceived as confident and competent etc. These are actually behaviors which enabled the person to avoid or escape from harmful events and/or relationships and thrive in the past. Since those behaviors have been shown to be successful before, and worked for the person and in their best interest – they have been assimilated as usual responses when the person perceives the situation as challenging, uncomfortable, hostile, or even harmful. That brings us to the second point:

These behaviors usually emerge when the person is under stress.

As previously noted – these behaviors are strengths when employed to a certain degree, but when they are overused (and that is the case when the person is stressed), that is when they become counterproductive and impede the manager’s reputation, relationships and performance at work. Usually, human stress responses fall under the categories of fight, flight or comply behaviors. Basically, people tend to either run away from a threatening situation, fight or comply with whoever or whatever is causing the threat. All of the 11 listed manager mistakes fall under one of these categories.

So, what can be done about it?

Drs. Robert and Joyce Hogan, founders of Hogan Assessment Systems have developed a methodology around this. Through extensive research they have identified the 11 behaviors which cause management and leadership failure – so called career derailers. Also, in order to be able to assess those tendencies, predict the future derailing behavior in employees and managers, and create a solid base for their development efforts, they have developed HDS – Hogan Development Survey.

EXCITABLE: Are often angered, annoyed and easily upset
SKEPTICAL Are suspicious of other’s intentions and don’t trust their employees
CAUTIOUS: Avoid risk and are reluctant to make decisions
RESERVED Rarely communicate with employees and seem distant
LEISURELY: Avoid giving honest feedback, but are privately resentful and irritated
BOLD: Are overconfident and feel entitled, but avoid taking responsibility for mistakes
MISCHIEVOUS Rarely admit their mistakes, but ‘charm their way out’ of problems
COLORFUL: Dominate meetings and make their subordinates feel their opinions are not needed
IMAGINATIVE: Generate a lot of ideas, but rarely follow up on them or make sure they get executed
DILIGENT Bogged in details, reluctant to delegate and overly critical to their subordinates
DUTIFUL: Reluctant to act against popular opinion and stand up for their employees in front of upper management

HDS can help identify the derailing behaviors which the person is most likely to display, and make the person aware of how they tend to act when they are under stress. Surprisingly, this is the biggest step towards improving those tendencies and reducing the behavior which falls under the category of faulty management. Being aware of those behaviors enables managers and leaders to consciously choose a different, more constructive response in situations which would normally trigger their derailing behavior. In time and with practice in applying the more constructive responses, they need less conscious effort to do so.

Why is a psychometric assessment like HDS helpful in this process?

Not all derailing behaviors work the same, nor is the motivation behind them the same. In order for the developmental efforts in this area to be effective, it is crucial for the person to be aware which particular behaviors are they prone to, how those behaviors are perceived by others and what they can do differently and how. HDS provides all of these answers. The first step is to get familiar in which category in which their derailers fall into:

Moving away from people (flight response) – the goal with these behaviors is to avoid others in order to avoid criticism, open conflict, failure or vulnerability. (Excitable, Skeptical, Cautious, Reserved, Leisurely)

Moving against people (fight response) – people in this category have an unconscious tendency to employ different behaviors in order to outshine, manipulate or charm others to “protect” themselves and manage their self-doubts. (Bold, Mischievous, Colorful, Imaginative)

Moving toward people (comply response) – the goal of these behaviors is to build alliances and ingratiate others in order to manage their insecurity, avoid criticism and deal with stressful situations. (Diligent, Dutiful)

The next step is to go into detailed interpretation of each identified derailer, connect it to the person’s experience and provide development tips targeted at the specific behaviors.

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