Do you (or your clients) manage like a parent?

I was interviewing some employees at a large company this past week, and one front-line worker said something that really struck me:

"Most managers I've had here manage like they learned to be managers from their parents. They are condescending, chastising, and treat us like we were children. I call this MBA by Mom. They think they know how to lead and manage, and have no idea how cloying and demotivating their approach to management is."

Her observations about MBA by Mom were something I had heard at many other organizations, although never put quite as clearly.

The fact is that many managers never learned how to manage and lead other people. For instance, in hospital settings, nurse managers are picked from among the best floor nurses, and asked to take on entirely new responsibilities. In technology, the most competent developers are asked to suddenly lead teams. In engineering, accounting, legal, and consulting firms, people rise up through the ranks and have to learn management and leadership on the fly.

Even people who go to MBA programs don't necessarily learn how to manage and lead people. I've been to a leading business school, and most of the content isolates the analytical decision-making required of leaders, not the softer and more difficult work of engaging and mobilizing employees.

So where do most people turn to learn how to manage and lead? Their parents are certainly one natural model. They also learn from their current and past managers, who may or may not have been stellar role models.

Executive coaches can help executives, managers, and up-and-coming talent to develop flexibility in how they work with other people.  We can show people new ways to engage and mobilize employees, and unlearn the "MBA by Mom" syndrome.

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