What do leaders and lottery winners have in common? Hint: it’s not luck. We’ll get there, I promise, but first, a more relevant question:
Why is management so difficult?
If you understand the answer to this question, you can become a great leader. If you don’t, you can only become less bad.
Management is like parenting: many people do it, and deep inside they’re afraid they have no idea what they’re doing. And while neither babies nor employees come with instructions, there is enough written on both subjects for lifetimes of reading.
Most of this wisdom tells us what to do. But why is it so difficult to begin with? If you don’t fully understand a problem, the solutions are often scattershot. The better you understand a problem, the better you can solve it, right?
Problems Become Amplified
Management is difficult for the same reason most lottery winners have above-average bankruptcy rates. Power, like money, amplifies. Money is not the “root of evil,” nor does power “corrupt absolutely.” Both of these ideas are distractions from the ugly truth: money and power don’t cause us to be bad people, they reveal the badness that was there all along.
Imagine an irrigation pipe with a small leak. It’s not a big deal, because the system is only on for thirty minutes a day. But what happens if it’s on all the time? Or if the water pressure doubles? When you increase the volume in the system, the effect of the flaws can be catastrophic. Money and power increase the volume of energy through your system. They amplify your strengths and your weaknesses, whether you like it or not.
The higher up you are on an organization chart, the more influence you have. If you’re the CEO, you can lift an employee’s mood with a smile, or terrify them with a frown. They watch your every move, consciously or not. This is the nature of power.
When a lottery winner claims their lump sum, the truth leaks out of the holes in their system. Perhaps they can’t say “No” to friends and family, they lack self-discipline, or they have immature ambitions, etc.
When a person takes a leadership position, the same kinds of things emerge. Let’s explore some of the most common.
Common Management Problems
Micromanagement happens when a manager has an overriding need to feel in control, stemming from insecurity and fear. They justify their behavior in the name of producing great results, but in the long run it creates the opposite.
Bullying comes from the same place, but the issues are deeper. Most managers don’t realize they’re doing it, but some justify it with Machiavelli’s “It’s better to be feared than loved” theory. Inside every bully is a sense of powerlessness such that they have to prove their strength to themselves and others. They often fear betrayal and so prefer intimidation over connection.
Over-responsibility happens when managers coddle their people, solving problems for them, reverse delegating, and avoiding uncomfortable accountability conversations. These managers usually gain self-worth by being busy and needed. They unconsciously disempower their people because they’re afraid of feeling useless themselves.
Self-importance is another common management issue. While a manager may know the business better, it’s their job to develop their people so they’re not the only resident expert. Self-importance is another expression of insecurity that causes a lack of listening, devaluing followers, and weak mentoring.
Managers Must Look in the Mirror
Are you starting to see the pattern? The more power a manager has, the more their personal issues come to bear. There are myriad techniques, tools, and methods to improve as a manager, but without curiosity about oneself and the willingness to look in the mirror, all of them fall short.
In other words, personal growth is great for anybody, but for leaders it’s required. Your people are inevitably a reflection of you. Bullies create yes-people. Over-responsible martyrs surround themselves with incompetence. Self-important managers stifle the creativity and growth of their followers.
So the most important thing a manager does is attend to the leaks in their own personality—their weaknesses—and then they can use the increased power moving through their system as a teacher.
It’s often the case that these weaknesses hide for decades before rearing their heads. When I reflect them to my clients, they’re often stunned and dismayed. “But no one ever told me this before!” “I never used to have this problem!”
Welcome to leadership, where all your latent issues are on parade. Do you have the strength to look? What if one of the main points of your leadership is that you learn to see yourself? What would be possible then?
The article above was originally posted on Forbes.