Why are there still so many incompetent managers?


Some people just aren’t fit for the job. But what skills will the managers of the future need to possess and do we need to redefine the manager role?

The days when the role of a manager was to be totally responsible for everything within their department – from leading and setting the vision, to managing the smooth operation of the team and supervising the performance of staff – is long over.

Leading, managing and supervising are distinct and separate skills. A recent article in Forbes is just one of several recently to point out that this model does not work well. People with great ideas and vision don’t necessarily make great managers. And top managers are not always quality supervisors and so on.  

Joe Farris, Co-Founder of HR firm, the Nua Group, advises HR professionals to “spend some time truly paying attention to what skills your people possess and in which roles your employees will shine most”.

Just because an employee performs well in their current role, doesn’t mean they have managerial chops.

Laurence J. Peter’s eponymous 1969 book, The Peter Principle, still rings very true. Peter suggested that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out” assigned duties and that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”

A new study, Promotions and the Peter Principle, reinforces this idea. Conducted by researchers from the Carlson School of Management MIT Sloan and Yale, the career paths of more than 53,000 US-based sales people were studied over a six year period. What they found is that top sellers are driven into management roles at a 14 per cent higher rate than an average salesperson. But when these employees were promoted to manager, sales actually declined (by an average of 7.5 per cent), indicating that the better the salesperson, the worse the team leader.

Interestingly, the opposite happened when a mediocre salesperson became a manager. The researchers found that salespeople who work closely with colleagues on sales, may not be top performers, but when working in a managerial role, the team’s sales figures rose by 30 per cent due to their strong collaborative skills.

The researchers concluded that seeking out managers with leadership capability rather than promoting as an incentive for high performance, was a better path to follow.

What’s the solution?

Farris proposes that managers should not be expected to be jacks of all trades and that managers should be allowed to specialise in the areas they excel in to create a more effective people management program.

How many CEOs are there who are not at all savvy when it comes to computer skills, even those whose businesses rely on the internet? They might type with two fingers but are skilled at the big picture thinking and execution demanded of the role. Equally, the people person in the department may not be the most entrepreneurial member of staff but  is able to guide and motivate staff in a way that others can’t. Future of work crystal ball gazers such as Jacob Morgan, are a growing band who argue that the role of managers has to be redefined if organisations are going to function better.


Build the management and leadership skills of your staff, with AHRI’s customised inhouse training courses.

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Why are there still so many incompetent managers?


Some people just aren’t fit for the job. But what skills will the managers of the future need to possess and do we need to redefine the manager role?

The days when the role of a manager was to be totally responsible for everything within their department – from leading and setting the vision, to managing the smooth operation of the team and supervising the performance of staff – is long over.

Leading, managing and supervising are distinct and separate skills. A recent article in Forbes is just one of several recently to point out that this model does not work well. People with great ideas and vision don’t necessarily make great managers. And top managers are not always quality supervisors and so on.  

Joe Farris, Co-Founder of HR firm, the Nua Group, advises HR professionals to “spend some time truly paying attention to what skills your people possess and in which roles your employees will shine most”.

Just because an employee performs well in their current role, doesn’t mean they have managerial chops.

Laurence J. Peter’s eponymous 1969 book, The Peter Principle, still rings very true. Peter suggested that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out” assigned duties and that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”

A new study, Promotions and the Peter Principle, reinforces this idea. Conducted by researchers from the Carlson School of Management MIT Sloan and Yale, the career paths of more than 53,000 US-based sales people were studied over a six year period. What they found is that top sellers are driven into management roles at a 14 per cent higher rate than an average salesperson. But when these employees were promoted to manager, sales actually declined (by an average of 7.5 per cent), indicating that the better the salesperson, the worse the team leader.

Interestingly, the opposite happened when a mediocre salesperson became a manager. The researchers found that salespeople who work closely with colleagues on sales, may not be top performers, but when working in a managerial role, the team’s sales figures rose by 30 per cent due to their strong collaborative skills.

The researchers concluded that seeking out managers with leadership capability rather than promoting as an incentive for high performance, was a better path to follow.

What’s the solution?

Farris proposes that managers should not be expected to be jacks of all trades and that managers should be allowed to specialise in the areas they excel in to create a more effective people management program.

How many CEOs are there who are not at all savvy when it comes to computer skills, even those whose businesses rely on the internet? They might type with two fingers but are skilled at the big picture thinking and execution demanded of the role. Equally, the people person in the department may not be the most entrepreneurial member of staff but  is able to guide and motivate staff in a way that others can’t. Future of work crystal ball gazers such as Jacob Morgan, are a growing band who argue that the role of managers has to be redefined if organisations are going to function better.


Build the management and leadership skills of your staff, with AHRI’s customised inhouse training courses.

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