Prescriptions for Two Common Management Weaknesses

Looking for a fast way to improve how you manage people?

Evaluate yourself on two sets of skills: the ability to Require of your employees (this includes setting expectations, focusing on goals, establishing appropriate controls, insisting on excellence, confronting performance issues, asserting your views) and the ability to Relate to your employees (which involves asking, listening, including, coaching and encouraging). For every manager, one of these skill sets feels more natural, but both are needed.

The Requirer is a goal-oriented manager, who focuses on delivering quality work and believes relationships will gel as people cooperate to create winning results. The Relater is a people person, who believes good work will flow from good relationships. Both types of managers can be equally effective if they have ready access to both skills sets.

In working with hundreds of Requiring managers, however, I've observed that most of them have one specific weakness, a blind spot—something they don't see, but their employees know. They think they are better at "listening" than they really are. Here are a few symptoms: They may interrupt and finish their employees’ sentences. They tend to start problem-solving too early, before ensuring they understand employees’ views and suggestions. They multitask while the employee is talking, instead of giving undivided attention to the conversation. They're more interested in their own agenda.

True listening improves business results

To become more effective, Requiring managers need to add “Listening” as a specific task on their to-do lists, instead of viewing it as a time-waster. Most people don’t say what they mean with the first utterance they make. A good manager asks clarifying questions to draw out employees’ opinions and ideas. This takes time and undivided attention but can add significantly to the quality and efficiency of your department’s work.

Asking clarifying questions and listening for the responses is an iterative process. One set of answers will likely inspire more questions and more listening. Once you have “unpacked” an employee’s issues, challenge yourself to work with the employee to brainstorm possible solutions, instead of unilaterally deciding a course of action.

Sometimes, a manager will agree with the problem an employee identifies, but not with the employee’s suggested solution. Sometimes, a manager won't agree with anything said. But at least he or she will have heard the employee before reacting. She'll improve her relationship through the act of listening well, because it shows respect and helps the employee feel heard. Requiring managers often have no idea how much this means to their employees.

Typically, managers with this weakness do not know they are perceived as poor listeners. To find out if this applies to you, ask your employees if they consider you a good listener. Unless you seriously intimidate them (and that's possible), they probably will tell you. If they lightly say you could improve, dig deeper with clarifying questions to understand their specific concerns and frustrations. You’ll see a visible payoff from this time investment. Listening will improve your business results.

Insisting on excellence improves relationships

In my work with Relating managers, I've observed a very different weakness: many have a hard time making demands of employees. They have a tough time saying phrases like, "I need you to…," "I'd like you to…," or "This needs to be done more thoroughly."

It's hard for them to use "I" statements and insist on excellence, without apologizing for their self-perceived harshness. This generally isn't a blind spot for them. They know they are uncomfortable asking for what they want. But being an effective manager requires the ability to assert.

Relating managers need to view "insisting on excellence" as a tool for "developing a better long-term relationship." Can you think of a teacher, mentor, or parent who helped you develop the most, but who didn't insist on excellence? How can you help an employee learn unless you provide information on how to improve? Doing this is essential for building the good relationships you desire.

The best managers have easy access to both Relating and Requiring skills and know when to use them. By developing “fluency” in both skill sets, you’ll help employees grow professionally and deliver great results for your organization.

Challenge yourself to look at your current fluency with the free tool at You’ll get a report outlining your strengths and needs-attention areas, along with specific recommendations for improvement.



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