Are your Employees Over-managed and Under-led?


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Are your employees over-managed and under-led? That describes the state of leadership in most of the organizations with which I have consulted over the past 20 years. It’s too bad.

I am not sure how we got this way. I think it’s from two generations of leaders taking too-much-to-heart the old adage: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” I think we have lost sight of what the “it” in that sentence is supposed to refer to. As your high school English teacher used to say, the pronoun “it” in this case has a vague antecedent.

The Management Mistake of the Century

The “it” in that saying ought to refer to business processes—and only to processes—not to people. The management mistake of the century is that we have tried to manage employees by measuring and controlling them. And we’ve ignored processes in the process of managing employes. Is it any wonder that employee engagement is so low? No employee wants to be micro-managed. We’re trying to ride a horse backwards. Instead, what we need to do is manage processes and lead people.

I’m not making this stuff up. A lot of other consultants who are a lot wiser and better known than me have said similar things. If you want a wake-up call about leading people, read Peter Drucker’s brilliant book, Management Challenges of the Twenty-First Century. It should be on every leader’s book shelf. And not gathering dust there, either. Re-read it every six months until what Drucker says really sinks in.

The Biggest Question about Leadership and Management

In my management training workshops, I often ask participants, what is the biggest single question you would like to be able to answer about leadership and management? The most frequent response I get is, “How can we hold employees accountable for results?”

I used to believe that this was a legitimate question about the subject of accountability. I no longer believe that.

The Darker Side of Management

There’s a darker side implied here. The operative word in this question is the verb “hold.” To hold people to something means to control them. Control should be applied to processes, not to people.

The job of a leader is to free people from constraints that keep them from doing a good job; it is to liberate people from burdensome controls and bureaucratic red tape that drain the energy out of their work. The job of a leader is to encourage and enable people to apply their best efforts to what they do.

The job of a leader is to paint a picture of where the organization is going and then blaze the path to get there. With effective leaders, most people—those whom you want to keep in your employ—are eager to go there with you. Most employees take pride in putting their best efforts into their work. People want to do good work. Good leaders let them.

Step One

How good of a leader can you become? Here’s a first step: manage processes and lead people.

If you want to learn more about a process to manage that improves the leading of people, then you want a copy of the free ebook 7 Keys to Employee Engagement. Learn about this process now.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Cliff: Great post! Your close look at questions and the meaning of words helps to drill into the core of the problem. “Holding employees accountable. . . ” without articulating any leadership vision, let alone without even possessing leadership skills zeroes in on the core of the problem, and explains why the climate in many organizations is plain stultifying. Words matter.

    Unfortunately, in sales and in other areas, employees take the brunt. “We just can’t get any decent performers in that department!” In my earliest days as a manager, my boss told me, “Andy, if you ever fire anyone, I’m going to come to you first to ask you why you screwed up.” I remember his admonition clearly. He had his priorities in the right place: it’s incumbent on a manager or executive to assemble an effective team and to focus on being an effective manager or leader. Sure, employees can fail in a role despite a manager’s best efforts to help him or her succeed, but it’s the boss’s job to minimize the possibility of a failed outcome.

  2. Andrew,
    I appreciate your comments. Words do matter. I was thinking that, but not exactly articulating it that way. One of the phrases I use when coaching managers or leaders is, whenever you are faced with a performance problem from employees, is to “look first in the mirror.” This is really difficult to do. But, it’s the best exercise in honesty I can think of.


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