Why Managers Fail – Pt2

Another reason for managerial failure is the total under-estimation of emotion; and its corollary, over-estimating the importance of the rational or intellectual.

Smart people (as a group) are no more successful than any other group of people at managing. I have no research to back this up, but I would even hazard a guess that they may even be statistically under-represented. (Now there is a thesis for you…)

Organisations do not tick on rational decision-making. It ticks on culture. And strategy. And innovation. But it certainly does not tick on objectivity and cold hard facts. Every meaningful decision that is made in an organisation is a compromise. (A camel is a horse designed by a committee is not just humorous – it contains more than a grain of truth.)

Decisions are made based on politics and the dispersion of power. Not on who happens to be right. If you stake your career on your ability to find intelligent, rational solutions you are bound to fail. The key success factor is your ability to influence people to accept the decision. And people make that decision based on how they feel. And how the result will make them feel.

The two misleading things (essentially variations of the same thing) that throw most people are:

  1. Presentations, proposal and arguments are always based on ‘logic’ or ‘research.’ This is simply part of the front. Managers must be seen to be considering the numbers. You can never be honest about making a decision based on emotion. (Rarely can a leader at the very top admit to making gut-decisions, but that luxury is not available to managers.
  2. People who use facts and figures to make decisions seem to be doing so based on the facts and figures, but they are not. Even the apparent rationalists base their arguments on how the ‘thinking process’ makes them feel. They find comfort in the numbers; using ‘facts’ makes them feel secure – but it is not about what the numbers are saying. The reality is once you have advanced up the management tree, the vast majority of decisions involve significant subjectivity (all shades of grey) and numbers can be made to say anything. (If you don’t believe me, do some research on how problems are and can be framed differently and you will see how very different results are obtained from the same data.)

If you think a corporation is rational and that being rational is a key success factor, you are wrong and bound to fail. Facts and figures are simply the vehicle to be used to manipulate emotions of the decision-makers to arrive at the decision you want.