This is a guest post for Skills You Need.
Want to contribute? Find out how.

Effective Management Skills
Nature or Nurture?

See also: Creating a Motivational Environment

In the year 2000, a book titled Fish hit the bookstores. It was a combination fiction and non-fiction tale, incorporating the fictitious Mary Jane and the very real Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington.

Mary Jane has been recently widowed and, with two young boys to support, takes a promotion to a management position at First Guarantee Financial – said position being in the “toxic waste dump” operations department, which is really a glorified name for customer service.

The previous manager was a bully; the employees are surly, unmotivated, and unproductive. Into this situation walks Mary Jane without a bit of management background or experience. But, hey, she needs the money.

Mary Jane’s first several weeks are a “living hell,” as she attempts to inject some productivity and pleasantness into the workplace along with new and more effective procedures and policies for the dysfunctional department. Nothing works.

One day on her lunch hour she walks into Pike Place Fish Market and observes employees in a smelly, messy environment working cooperatively together, having fun with themselves and their customers, and being obviously productive.

From that point on, she learns her management skills from the manager of the market and takes them back to her department.

Happy ending!

Mary Jane is Not Unusual

While she is a fictional character, there is the statement by these authors that management skills can be learned.

Most business schools believe the same thing. They have developed entire programs (MBA’s) based upon the premise that these are learned skills that come from a study of theory and then practical application. If this were not the case, in fact, B-schools would not be filling their enrollments every year, and employment managers would not be looking for that degree in their candidates.

Moreover, almost any resume service states that an MBA degree is a highly marketable component of application documents submitted for career positions, no matter what other area of specialization or undergraduate field of study.

So, Are There Instinctive Talents?

The other side of this coin is the question of whether certain individuals simply have a natural, built-in talent for management or not.

A recent Gallup study seems to conclude the following:

  • There are some innate personality characteristics that are present in great managers, and they make up about 10% of the current management demographic in the U.S. These characteristics include the ability to engage subordinates and provide the motivation to achieve high levels of productivity and employment satisfaction.
  • The other 90% of managers have been chosen rather haphazardly, and mistakes are probably made about 82% of the time. Further, companies do not spend the time to prepare potential managers for the positions to which they very well may be promoted in the future.

The Blurring Lines

A great deal has been written on the difference between managers and leaders.

In the classical sense:

  • Managers are concerned with how things get done. Thus, they establish policies and procedures and see that subordinates are aware of these and use them as they complete their task responsibilities.
  • Leaders, on the other hand, are concerned with what must be accomplished and why that is so. They must work to delegate task responsibilities properly, to ensure that everyone understands the purpose of projects, and that there is collaboration and sufficient motivation/morale to remain productive and focused.

In today’s leaner business environment, however, these lines continue to blur, and people tend to be placed in roles that involve both management and leadership. Fortunately, our B-schools have recognized this, and solid programs have curricula that provide theoretical and practical education and experience in both areas. Hiring managers understand, then, that when they read a cover letter that highlights both management and leadership abilities, those can be very truthful comments.


Organizations Must Nurture Their Managers/Leaders

Whether executives believe that management and leaderships abilities are a result of innate talent (nature) or learned behaviors (nurture), the fact remains that managers and leaders must be nurtured in their roles.

And because those roles overlap so often, here are the steps that must be taken to nurture them:

  • Embrace the fact that managing and leading is real work and that it overlaps. The large work load that is often given to these individuals may result in nothing being done well. Managers and leaders must be given opportunities to develop their organizational skills.
  • Further, they must have time to communicate goals to their subordinates and teams and provide time for discussion. Managers and leaders cannot get “ownership” unless this happens.
  • Assess management and leadership skills of those promoted to management positions and develop individualized professional development programming based upon those assessments. Some of these skills may be inherently present. In that case, move on. Managers and leaders need customized professional development. Here is a list of skills that should be identified and evaluated:

Managers may come into a position with many of these skills, whether they are natural or learned. When they do, it is a waste of that manager’s time to be subjected to initial training. During the course of their tenure as managers, however, gaps may very well appear. Managers who have confidence are willing to admit those gaps and take steps to fill them through self-directed study and development.

The Wrong Question

Asking whether management skills are a result of nature or nurture may be a “philosophical” question that theorists and academicians love to grapple with. The only answer we really have is mixed. Yes, there are people born with personality traits that may make them “natural” managers of organizations. Yes, managers can be groomed, trained, and developed, if educational and professional development programs are effective and highly targeted for specific skill gaps.

The question we need to be asking is this: What are organizations doing to develop their managers? As the Gallup study shows, organizations are woefully negligent in making decisions about promotions of their people to management positions and indeed make incorrect decisions as much as 82% of the time. Further, they are doing very little to prepare their potential managers with the advance training they need to be prepared to assume these positions. This speaks to lack of vision on the part of executives of organizations, and that is certainly troubling.

Preventing the Problems of the Mary Jane’s

Mary Jane, as stated, is not an unusual case. She has been thrown into a management situation for which she has no training, based upon the organization’s need to just get a “warm body” in place. At the same time, there is no expectation that the department’s performance will improve. Mary Jane’s response was to take the initiative and find the training she needed – completely outside of the organization, actually. Managers who do not receive the appropriate support and training from their organizations will have to do the same. The cost of doing nothing is just not an option.


About the Author


Sylvia Giltner is a freelance writer for different recruiting sites. She helps people to write the perfect resume and land a desirable job. To find more about Sylvia, check her Twitter.

TOP