Management Skills: The Overconfident Manager

I was talking to a client the other day about management confidence. She agreed that many of the managers who worked for her would benefit from improving their confidence – with one exception, Bill.
She said: ‘Oh my goodness I wish Bill had that problem. He’s got more confidence than he knows what to do with
 Me (naively): ‘is he good then?’
Her: ‘No, he’s an awful manager. The problem is, all he has is the confidence. He couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag’.
We talked some more and I asked her to describe what this ‘over confident’ manager did

The overconfident manager

The main issue, she said, was the manager’s belief that he ‘knew best’. Now I know this is her assumption – and I don’t recommend making assumptions – and she may be wrong (although, as Bill was overheard saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’, she may have a point). When we talked about what he actually did she said he had a tendency to:
·         Impose (often unrealistic) performance objectives and standards on his staff  without consultation
·         Tell his staff that he wanted ‘more teamwork’ and ‘more creativity’ and ‘more oomph’ without being able to describe what he meant by any of that
·         Closely monitor his staff’s performance – without explaining why he was monitoring or involving the staff member
·         Only giving feedback when the staff member wasn’t meeting his standards
I could go on but I think you’re getting the picture? I guess this isn’t an uncommon scenario and Bill wouldn’t be the first person to have more faith in his abilities than was probably warranted. So what’s the answer?

To see ourselves as others see us

Well firstly, Bill needs to understand that there is a problem with the way he is managing his staff. He needs to understand specifically what he is doing, and the results and negative consequences, of his behaviour (for more detail on the power of ‘results and consequences’ see my blog ‘Improving Employee Performance Feedback’) Of course Bill’s manager won’t be talking to Bill about his ‘over confidence’. She’ll simply be focusing on the facts (actions – not what motivates those actions), results and consequences in order to help Bill see the need for him to change his behaviours

Skills, management techniques and good practice

My guess about Bill is that he’s not over confident at all (take a lie down on my therapy couch why don’t you?). I’d guess that, in the absence of training, skills, tools and techniques he’s making it up as he goes along. He might believe that he has to know all the answers, that he has the responsibility to set ‘stretch’ objectives (that nobody has a chance of meeting), or to closely monitor his staff’s work
What Bill needs to understand is what effective management actually looks like in practice. He needs access to practical tools and techniques, founded on best practice research, which he can apply, step by step
For example, he needs to know how to:
·         Involve his staff in writing their own performance objectives
·         Help  his staff to see the ‘bigger picture’ – why they and their performance are so important to the team / business results
·         Use performance objectives to improve staff performance AND staff job satisfaction
·         Describe (and involve his staff in describing) what ‘more teamwork’, ‘more creativity’ and ‘more oomph’ actually means – and why these behaviours are important
·         How to effectively monitor performance without his staff feeling micro-managed and how to involve his staff in monitoring their own performance
·         How to give feedback – positive (praise) and negative (for performance improvement) – in a way that his staff find easy to accept and easy to apply


In the same way that ‘nature fills the void’ so do we. When there is emptiness where our management skills and competence should be we, sometimes, fill that void with bravado – with a false sense of confidence. The most effective way to build true management confidence is to build management competence


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