54% of Managers Are One Trick Ponies – What About You?

Management is a tough gig.

I’ve never forgotten what one of my leadership mentors told me years ago: “People are messy.” Boy, was she right. The people situations you deal with as a manager come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. One minute you find yourself training a new employee who needs an incredible amount of time and attention, while the next you’re coaching a team member through a situation where she has the skills to tackle the project but is doubting her abilities. The following moment you have to talk a team member off the ledge because she’s totally frustrated and discouraged, then shift gears to respond to that high-performing employee who’s ready to tackle a challenging new goal.

You can’t be a one trick pony as a manager and expect to succeed…even if your one trick is really, really, good.

Unfortunately, too many people approach management as a one size fits all proposition. Research shows that 54% of managers are comfortable using only one leadership style—one trick ponies. Those one trick ponies are most comfortable using a coaching leadership style that is heavy on supportive behavior and low on directive behavior. That’s great if the person you are leading is competent on the goal or task and needs some encouraging words to get over the hump. But if the person isn’t that competent, she needs higher amounts of direction from you, such as defining the requirements of the task, showing her how to accomplish the steps, setting timelines, and providing the appropriate resources.

The most successful managers use different leadership styles based on a blend of directive and supportive behaviors. Managers employ a directive style of leadership when the follower needs to develop competence. The manager shows and tells the team member what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. As the team member develops competence, she eventually realizes the task or goal is harder than anticipated and experiences a drop in motivation or commitment. The flexible manager responds by dialing up the amount of emotional and relational support to encourage the team member, while also maintaining the proper level of direction to continue the development of her competence.

As the team member becomes more capable at the task, the manager scales back on the direction provided but still maintains the support that’s needed to coach the follower to overcome any doubts or uncertainties in her competence. And for the employee who’s fully competent and committed, the manager uses a delegating style by providing low amounts of direction and support in just the areas needed to help the employee set new and challenging goals.

Flexibly shifting leadership styles between employees, or even with the same employee based on different goals or tasks, is a huge challenge for managers. Ken Blanchard likes to say managers need to provide different strokes for different folks, and different strokes for the same folks.

Being a one trick pony may work in some situations, but it certainly doesn’t work in the variety of situations managers find themselves. Successful managers develop their skills so they are able to use the right leadership style in the right situation. You have to be more than a one trick pony to be an effective manager.

9 Comments on “54% of Managers Are One Trick Ponies – What About You?

  1. I certainly agree, managing people requires emotional intelligence supported by an intelligent framework which requires flexibility, intuition, compassion and care as each personality type is uniquely designed by God with both strength and weakness. As managers our role is to serve them through encourage, influencing and correcting in faith, hope and love to achieve their best within the team.

  2. Agree. A good manager is before anything else a good coach and in order to coach properly you need to be able to adapt to different people and situations. “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and that’s all some managers have. I have just recently posted an article on my blog on the importance of trust (http://www.newkidintownblog.com/coaching/the-importance-of-trust/) and how trust can only be built if you have the right capability which for a manager is the capability to adapt to the team. Fabio

  3. Like the analogy! It’s important that managers have the emotional intelligence and skills to understand the individual needs of their team members and support them appropriately. There’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to people.

    • You’re right Amanda, managers have to flex their style to meet the needs of their followers.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  4. Thank you Randy! I have often thought, and wished, that new managers should be provided required training on personality styles and how to manage to them, including his or her own. Sadly, so many new supervisors are still simply thrown to the wolves. The great thing about the Internet though, is that access to learning opportunities abound, including your posts and other great insights from Blanchard Companies.

  5. Pingback: 54% of Managers Are One Trick Ponies – Wh...

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