The Leadership and Management Rut

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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Why do you do your job? For leadership and management opportunities?

Something makes you get out of bed every morning and go to work, ready for another day of challenges and accomplishments.

Is it the money? Bills that you need to pay? Prestige? Or have you followed a career path that truly interests you, and you actually like what you’re getting paid to do?

Whether it’s accounting, teaching, advertising, or driving a bus, everyone has their own niche, their own area of interest that they desire to learn more about and excel in as a result.

Becoming a Boss

I’ve found when people grow and advance in their professions; they discover that “moving up the ladder” in an organization not only brings them more money but increased influence over others as well. When they realize that they can now tell people what to do and have things done their own way, they sometimes become bosses, not leaders.

When this happens, they find that being in management is not all they’d hoped for. Instead of getting ahead, making more money, and building a team, they are stuck in a cycle of firefighting that keeps them from doing the work they love. This forces them into making poor choices and harboring resentments.

The focus has shifted from their passion to the job, and a reactive manager has been born.

Reactive Management Happens

Nobody wakes up one morning and decides to be a reactive manager or “the boss”. It’s just something that happens, a phenomenon that sneaks up on you when you’re busy trying to do your job and make things work the best you can.

When you’re a hard worker, you often become the best at what you do. Then, all of a sudden, you are offered a promotion into management.

A promotion is a sign that you’re good at what you do and a reward for the hard work you’ve already put in. It’s a natural progression in your career, and you become excited about the possibilities.

Job Promotion

Moving Up the Ladder

As a manager, you could have more influence, input, and decision-making authority. In addition, a promotion could possibly bring you further career opportunities because you will be exposed to a whole new set of people and experiences. Besides, once you move up the ladder, you’re bound to do it again. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

These are the ideals of a person with a leadership mindset, someone who wants to get ahead not only for their personal gain but because, with more influence, they can do more good for the organization as a whole. Unfortunately, people like this are sometimes disappointed and get caught up in burning the candle at both ends.

Why We Get in a Rut

Have you ever moved into a managerial position and found you are not doing what you love to do?

For example, have you encountered problems you never even considered? For example, dealing with your own supervisor’s demands, shouldering the responsibility for other people’s failures or shortcomings, and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.

And then, you have to consider everyone who reports to you. Some are in need of training, and you may not have the time to help. Others don’t show up on time, and others bring their personal problems into the workplace, which can affect everyone’s productivity. When one person lags, it puts a drag on the whole team.

This is a tough situation to be in. You love what you do, but you find yourself doing very little of it. Unfortunately, this is what often happens.

Wasting Talent

Take, for example, a group of sales managers. Once, many of them were excellent salespeople, working with clients and enjoying what they did. They were promoted because of their achievements in this position. They were excited to be able to get into management roles and teach others what they knew.

Instead, they were inundated with team members’ motivation problems, meeting quotas, juggling administrative duties, and going to endless meetings.

They rarely had time to work hands-on with their staff, and their talents simply went to waste.

This is the challenge of balancing your management and leadership roles. Should you be the manager, focusing on the mechanics of the job, deadlines, personnel issues, and timesheets at the expense of your own skills? Or should you be the leader, working simultaneously to get ahead of this vicious cycle, build a foundation of trust with your team and pass on all of your valuable expertise in order to better the organization as a whole?


Becoming Rut Free – It Is Possible!

If you’re stuck in a managerial rut, it may seem like there’s no way out, but we can tell you from experience that it’s simply not true.

No matter how overworked and overwhelmed you may feel, you can change the way things are going. It might not be simple, and it might not happen in a day, but it is possible.

Step One

Start by looking at the managers around you.

Are they all in the same boat as you, or are there a few for whom things seem to go just a little bit easier?

What about your friend who runs the operations division? You’ve both been managers for about two years, but he seems to be so much farther ahead of the curve than you are.

He also:

  • Goes home every day at a reasonable time
  • Seems happy to come in again each morning
  • Has a ton of energy
  • Runs an upwardly mobile, self-sustained team
  • Makes managing people look easy
  • Has plans for the future of his division
  • Is known for developing leaders
  • Handles problems within his department efficiently and confidentially
  • Communicates clear expectations to his team members
  • Does not avoid conflicts but addresses them head-on and works them out

What is this colleague doing that you’re not?

For starters, he is following the principles of leadership. But he didn’t always. He started out in a reactive environment just like the one you’re in—and he got out of it. He used to run around frantically, trying to get things done but feeling like he would never see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then he made a decision to transition from managing people to leading them, and everything changed.

Step Two

Take a look at the balance in your life.

Is your work-life balance with your personal life? Do you sacrifice evenings with your family, weekend plans with friends, or hard-earned vacations for your job, putting in overtime hours that seem to accomplish nothing but bring you more frustration?

Make a commitment to increase your momentum and passion while at work and no longer miss your personal, family, and social engagements, which are so important to staying balanced in all of your areas of life.

Put people into high-payoff areas.

High-payoff areas are skills, actions, or methods that will bring about valuable changes or results in the workplace. Team building is a high-payoff activity. Putting effort into cultivating a “one team-one culture” mindset now will benefit you and your employees. When you are faced with changes in production schedules, conflicts of interest or anything that breaks up the workflow, having unity among team members will make all the difference.

Establishing connections with your customers is also a high-payoff pursuit. So is providing training for those employees who require it, as well as being forthright in dealing with conflicts or misunderstandings.

Anything you can do now to save yourself headaches and problems in the future can fall into this category, and every one of them is a valuable investment in your career.

Improve Leadership Skills

Focus on Leadership

Despite the positive aspects a promotion can offer, many talented people do not take on management positions because they see burnt-out managers around them, and they don’t want that sort of life. This is a shame, as talented people are likely to be wasting their full potential.

Great leaders change the whole demeanor of the workplace. It even changes how people talk to one another.

Instead of coworkers gossiping about each other in the break room, you can influence people to have passionate discussions about how to best surpass the competition. Encourage the sharing of ideas between workgroups about how to best solve issues and get the work done.

Healthy competition within the culture creates synergy between employees and leaders alike. Having everyone on the same page makes the workforce stronger.

Reactive Managers are Made, Not Born

Though you may never have pictured yourself ending up as a reactive manager, it happens to the best of us. Don’t fret; remember that it’s not a permanent state, only a rut that you can climb out of at any time.

It is possible to make a move from reactive manager to effective leadership. All it takes is a commitment to making it work—and a focus on your passion, not just on your job. Love what you do first and foremost, and you will find a way to be the leader that you need to be.

How Can Leaders Get Out of the Leadership and Management Rut?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Tim Cummuta says:

    Dr. Whitaker I appreciate your article. It is important to understand the difference between being a leader and being a boss. Another thing you mentioned is that sometimes certain people will not ever be happy being in leadership or management. I know a surgeon who gives herself to third world countries very often for years at a time. All she wants to do is heal people and she has the talent to accomplish just that. She may never be happy going beyond healing people with her own hands. I have also seen many others over the years who give up leadership to go back and do what they love.

  • Hi Tim – Your point about people giving up a management role to do what they love needs to be supported by the management team. In my experience I have seen organizations lose great people because they have a policy that a manager cannot go back and be a doer. Has anyone had this experience?

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