5 Tough Challenges for Managers and How to Tackle Them

No matter what industry they are in, every manager experiences key pain points—those perennial challenges that get in the way of accomplishing organizational objectives and achieving productivity goals. When objectives and goals aren’t met, it’s usually the manager who is held responsible.

Let’s take a look at five of the toughest challenges for managers and how to tackle them.

Challenge #1: Conflicting or unclear priorities

Are your people caught in an activity trap, where they are busy doing tasks, but not the right tasks? If your answer was yes, then it’s time to clarify goals with them. Although most managers agree with the importance of setting goals, most do not take the time to clearly develop goals with their team members and write them down.

Solution: Set clear goals. Effective performance management always begins with clear, observable, measurable goals. Meet with each direct report and establish observable and measurable goals around each of their key areas of responsibility. Then you and they will have clear performance indicators to help determine whether they are making progress or need coaching to improve.

Challenge #2: Disengaged employees

Have you noticed declining engagement in any of your people? Often managers avoid dealing with disengaged employees because they don’t know how. Sometimes when they talk to their people, they make matters worse by criticizing what they perceive as a lack of commitment. Unfortunately, this often turns the not engaged into the actively disengaged!

Solution: Provide support.

While it may seem counterintuitive to impatient managers, providing a supportive leadership style is the best way to remotivate someone who is disengaged. Talk to the person and find out what’s getting in the way of their engagement. Ask them how you can help remove any obstacles. Are performance expectations clear? Do they need a different leadership style from you? Do they need more feedback? Finally, remember to catch people doing things right, even if they’re doing things only approximately right. Cheering people on with specific, meaningful praise boosts morale and reinforces behavior that moves them closer to their goals. When you praise progress, you strengthen your relationships and improve results.

Challenge #3: Poor performance

Just as managers often avoid dealing with disengaged employees, they often avoid dealing with poor performance. By not saying anything, managers are essentially rewarding poor performance.

When Spencer Johnson and I published The One Minute Manager in 1982, we recommended that managers give a quick “reprimand” of the unsatisfactory behavior—not the individual—to help them get back on track. Today, side-by-side leadership is proving far more effective. Because technology and other changes are happening so fast, people are almost always in a learning mode. Punishing a learner is never appropriate, so in The New One Minute Manager, Spencer and I changed the Third Secret to “One Minute Re-Directs.” When people are clear on the goal and still learning but their performance isn’t up to standard, redirection is far more effective than a reprimand.

Solution: Redirect mistakes.

To give a One Minute Re-Direct, take the following steps:

  1. Redirect the person as soon as possible.
  2. As the leader, be sure you have made the goal clear. If not, clarify the goal.
  3. Confirm the facts first and review the error together. Be specific about what went wrong.
  4. Let the person know how you feel about the error and its impact on results.
  5. Pause for a moment to allow them time to feel the effect of the error.
  6. Tell them they are better than their mistake and you think well of them.
  7. Remind them that you have trust in them and support their success.

The aim of redirection is to build people up so they will continue to move toward good performance.

Challenge #4: Communication breakdowns

In too many organizations big communication gaps exist between managers and employees. Often, managers are using top-down communication only. They assume that things are working smoothly, when in fact employees feel unheard and dissatisfied. Because of these communication gaps, both relationships and results suffer.

Solution: Have regular one-on-one meetings.

To get information flowing with your people, encourage your direct reports to schedule regular 15- to 30-minute meetings with you at least once every month. During these meetings, people can talk to you about anything on their hearts and minds—it’s their meeting. These meetings have multiple benefits: they inform both the manager and the direct report, foster problem-solving, deepen relationships, and increase job satisfaction. Remember that as a manager, the best moment you spend is the one you invest in your people.

Challenge #5: Too much to do, not enough time

Many if not most managers complain that they have too few hours in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done. In actuality, no one has more time than anyone else; we all have the same 24-hour day. The problem is that many managers take on issues that their people should be solving.

Solution: Help your people become self-reliant achievers.

When you stop doing your people’s work and hand back responsibility to them, you not only free up more time, but you also empower your people. Use SLII® skills to provide your direct reports with the support they need to become self-reliant achievers. This will free them to bring their brains to work and use their innate knowledge, experience, and motivation to accomplish goals.

Put these techniques into practice on an ongoing basis. Remember, good management is a lifestyle, not a fad diet! For more time-tested techniques, pick up a copy of my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview.

Everyone Benefits When Leaders Get Real

I had a wonderful experience when I coauthored the book Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success with my good friend Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines. Colleen has a delightful point of view about vulnerability in leadership. She says:

People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability.

Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. Like the Wizard of Oz, these leaders are afraid to allow their people to look “behind the curtain” for fear they will be seen as less than perfect.

Colleen believes when leaders express vulnerability, it shows that they own their personal positive and negative characteristics and are willing to be themselves around their direct reports. This accomplishes two things: (1) it allows team members to get to know their boss as a person, not a title; and (2) it builds trust by letting people know it’s okay for them to let down their guard as well.

Brené Brown, the famous researcher and bestselling author of Dare Greatly and Atlas of the Heart, has been studying and writing about vulnerability for years. She says leaders need to be courageous and take chances that allow them to make a difference, but they also need to be vulnerable because they will inevitably make mistakes along the way. Being vulnerable requires humility—but that’s not the same as lacking confidence. It’s about being real.

I think being your true self at work is so important. Are you willing to let your people see the real you?  Consider taking these practical steps:

  • Focus mostly on others, not yourself. Why? Because people who are self-focused behave in ways that preserve their carefully curated (but counterfeit) public image. Being others-focused is about working alongside your people and meeting their needs—not being perfect.
  • Here’s a shocker: your people already know you have flaws! So if you make a mistake, admit it. If you need help, ask for it. When leaders admit their mistakes and ask for help, it creates stronger, more trusting relationships with team members.

Dropping all pretenses and letting your people get to know the person behind the title won’t cause them to lose respect for you. Quite the opposite. It will allow them to see you for who you really are—a confident leader who cares about their people and is comfortable in their own skin.

“People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability” is Simple Truth #31 in my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Find it at your favorite bookstore or online retailer—and go here to download a sneak preview!

Inviting People to Follow

I’ve met a number of leaders who get upset when they give an order and people don’t obey it  immediately. They think when you are a leader, if you tell people what to do, they should blindly submit.

The reality is that most people don’t like to be told to do something. They like to be involved in decisions. That’s why I talk about servant leadership being a better way of leading than top-down, command-and-control leadership. Here’s a big distinction:

Servant leaders don’t command people to obey; they invite people to follow.

Servant leaders know people want to be part of the team. They invite their people to follow them in a side-by-side working relationship that the people have had a part in creating.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

If you want people to follow your leadership invitation, take the following steps:

  • Focus on we more than me.
  • Continually let team members know why they are important and how they can contribute to the success of the team.
  • Use your language wisely, as it makes a difference when talking to team members. “Would you mind?” comes across as an invitation. “Do this for me” sounds more like a command.
  • Say the words please and thank you; they are always welcome in any relationship.

Anytime you are seeking to influence the behavior of another person with the intent of getting something done, you are engaging in leadership. So whether you are a team member, supervisor, middle manager, or top executive, you’ll be more effective if you practice these steps.

Leading by command and position doesn’t work. To make a difference in the world, you need to act in a way that inspires people to follow your lead.

“Servant Leaders Don’t Command People to Obey, They Invite People to Follow” is Simple Truth #21 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a sneak preview!

Let Your Team Know You Appreciate Them

Working in teams is more common—and more crucial to organizational success—than it’s ever been. At our company, we define a team as two or more persons who come together for a common purpose and who are mutually accountable for results.

No matter whether teammates are face to face, virtual, or some mixture of the two, members of a high-performance team have the following mindsets in common:

  • They require clarity in communication above all else.
  • They thrive on trust among members and leaders.
  • They aren’t afraid of conflict because they know it is necessary for growth.
  • Ultimately, a high-performance team essentially leads itself.

If you have ever been part of a high-performance team, you know what a fulfilling experience it can be. Just for the fun of it, I referenced Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust—my new book coauthored by Randy Conley­—and found that the benefits of leading or working with a great team are featured in two of our Simple Truths.

SIMPLE TRUTH #19: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”—Eunice Parisi-Carew and Don Carew

Servant leaders realize leadership is about working alongside their people, sharing information and keeping lines of communication open. When that happens, people get to know each other’s strengths and build on them to help their team perform at the highest level.

SIMPLE TRUTH #36: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

As a trusted servant leader, when you establish a sincere, caring environment through your words and actions, you can be assured people on your team will always remember you for the way you made them feel.

To make these commonsense truths common practice:

  • Show your teammates you care through friendly camaraderie and acts of kindness.
  • Ask for help from one another when making decisions or trying to find solutions to problems.
  • Encourage your teammates to catch each other doing things right and praise progress. People never tire of being told they’re doing a good job. It’s good for motivation, morale, and momentum.

I have been a member of a fabulous team for the past three months—the folks who are working together on marketing and promotion for Simple Truths of Leadership. Our team fits the definition of having a common purpose and being accountable for results, and we all share the four mindsets I mentioned above. Each person is a self-directed achiever with special skills and unique talents. What a joy it is to be part of this team!

So please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary Simple Truths marketing and promotion team. First, our internal team at Blanchard:

  • Marketing leads: Randy Conley, David Witt, Vicki Stanford, Debbie Blanchard
  • Media Team (videos, podcasts, blog posts, articles): Michael Bowles, Adrian Henke, Chad Gordon, Renee Broadwell, Lisa Boyle, Evelyn De La Garza, Cheryl Horton, Richard Andrews, Mike Ortmeier
  • Social Media Team: Stefanie Hincks, Martha Lawrence, Andrew Broschart, Kayla Ratz, Madeleine Blanchard, Sidney Hernandez

Second, our external team—our publisher and promotional partners:

So here’s a big shout out to all my teammates for your hard work these past months getting our book and its important message out to into the world! Each of you has made such a positive difference. Thank you so much.

Whether you are a team member among peers or a team leader leading direct reports, it’s important to let others on your team know you appreciate them. So don’t forget to show appreciation to the folks you work with. It only takes a minute to give people a much-needed boost—and it will make you feel good, too.

You Get from People What You Expect

When people don’t understand what their leaders expect from them, they feel lost. They have no compass and no agreed-upon standards of conduct to follow. They’re not sure how to please their boss, how to behave around their teammates, or what a good job looks like. All they can do is wait for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it.

As a servant leader who works side by side with your team members, you must let your people know exactly what you expect from them. This gives them a mental picture of how to be successful under your leadership.

But expectations aren’t just about words—they are also about you modeling the behaviors you expect. You must walk your talk, or your words are meaningless. Communicating your expectations gives your people confidence and clarity about what a good job looks like.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

For example, suppose you tell your people that your expectations of them are similar to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Describe to them in clear terms what that would look like:

  • Act ethically in everything you do.
  • Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated.
  • Care for your teammates and cheer each other on.

Bravo! You’ve just painted a picture your people can see, feel, and apply to their daily work. These clear expectations, communicated directly to your team members, establish the standard for how you want them to consistently behave. Serve your people and help them accomplish their goals by setting the bar high and modeling the behavior you wish to see.

“You Get from People What You Expect” is Simple Truth #13 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a sneak preview!