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When "Good" Isn't "Good Enough"

Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus, in his Adagia (1500), observed that “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” His lesson for the ages was recognizing that the perceived value of an individual’s abilities very often depends on the prevalence of those abilities in the wider environment. This common wisdom can apply to many facets of daily life, but we find it especially prevalent in the realm of management.

We get it. Managing well is…well, hard. It takes skill, commitment of significant resources, and a lot of time; even when all of these are present, it’s definitely not foolproof. In many, if not most, organizations, therefore, it’s all too common to encounter management that is just “okay.” It gets the job done (most of the time) and the organization keeps running. “Good enough” becomes an acceptable substitute for “good.”

The prevalence of mediocre management has several causes:

  • Conflating technical expertise with managerial skill.

  • Assuming everyone can, or even wants to, be a good manager.

  • Tacking supervisory responsibilities onto a full-time contributor role.

  • Believing that high performers don’t “need” management.

  • Failing to take performance management seriously.

  • Thinking that managerial behavior must be abusive to be “bad.”

Mediocre management is so common that most workers don’t realize how low they’ve set the bar in their workplaces. Screamers, belittlers, and abusers do exist (sometimes to a depressingly common degree), but the cumulative effects of average managerial tradecraft can be just as damaging to an organization’s ability to meet its goals as the more overtly terrible behaviors. The challenge is recognizing the difference between management that is effective and management that is just “meh.”

How can you tell the difference?

Meh” managers have an open-door policy…they know their employees will come to them when they need something.

Good” managers have an open-door policy…and they make a point of walking through their sections a few times each week to check in with team members.

Great” managers have an open-door policy…and they have developed “profiles” of their team members so they have a good sense of who will come to them as needed, who will open up but only when asked, who works best collaboratively, who shines when left alone to focus…AND they have frequent, scheduled times to sit down with every employee to solicit feedback on projects, their views of the work environment, and ensure they know where their roles fit in the overall organization.

Does being “great” require more time? Definitely. More fundamentally, however, it shifts the focus from managing as a secondary responsibility to managing as the primary responsibility of being a manager. Numerous surveys have demonstrated that the single greatest factor in voluntary turnover is poor management – and it is almost completely preventable. Organizations need to prioritize strong management tradecraft skills in selecting, hiring, and promoting team leaders. Without these, they perpetuate the cycles of mediocrity that jeopardize their ability to meet organizational goals.

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