7 Common Leadership Challenges that Managers Face and How to Overcome Them – Bruce Tulgan, RainmakerThinking

Bruce Tulgan

CBT welcomes back Bruce Tulgan, Founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, popular author, and management consultant. On today’s show, Bruce discusses what he calls ‘the undermanagement epidemic’. He breaks down the seven common leadership challenges that managers face, how to identify under management at the dealership and practical strategies to improve your leadership skills.

Bruce Tulgan


Jim Fitzpatrick: Bruce Tulgan, thank you so much for joining us on CBT news.

Bruce Tulgan: Thank you so much for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. So let’s kinda dive right in here and talk about things. You know we’ve been hearing a lot that it’s harder now than ever before to manage people. Why is that?

Bruce Tulgan: Well I mean there are a lot of reasons. One is the pace of change and the pace of everything. The pace of everything is right now, all the time, yesterday’s too late, right? On top of that, it’s so hard to hire people and so hard to retain people. Most business leaders tell us that’s the number one challenge they’re facing right now. So leaders and managers typically, they’re trying to hire, they’re trying to retain, and they’re short staffed.

Meanwhile there are fewer layers of management so in any event, managers have broader spans of control, and of course, there’s also increased interdependency, competition is fierce, resource constraints are great. Everybody’s getting squeezed and meanwhile, the workforce is becoming more and more high maintenance.

So it’s always been hard to manage people, but our data shows that leaders are struggling more now. It’s harder now that maybe than ever to manage people.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, it sure is. And we live in an environment now and you know I was almost going to say you know, blame it on the millennials again, but that’s not fair to millennials. Now everybody is in this … it’s like we’re walking on eggshells as managers today. Where if you look at somebody the wrong way, they’re out the door because they know that there’s 20 jobs waiting for them out there, some may be better, some may be worse than what they currently have, but nevertheless, they’re out there. And it’s really difficult to hold people accountable. How do you deal with that out there as a leader?

Bruce Tulgan: The one thing, you can’t blame the millennials. We’re all millennials now.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. Good point.

Bruce Tulgan: They’re just the bleeding edge.

Jim Fitzpatrick: They’re the easy ones to blame, right?

Bruce Tulgan: Yeah, and they’re not even the young people in the workplace anymore. The post-millennials, the Generation Z are coming along and they’re like millennials on fast forward with self-esteem on steroids, you know. So they’re making high maintenance look new. But look, it’s also the case that for decades now employers have done a great job of killing the myth of job security. And that means that the old fashioned invisible hand of long term employment no longer does the work of managing people. You know, pay your dues, climb the ladder, keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, make one short term sacrifice after another, in the long run, we’ll take care of you.

Nobody buys that anymore. So people of all ages wanna know, hey what do you want from me today, tomorrow and this week, what do you have to offer me today tomorrow and this week. And now our advice to leaders, managers, and supervisors, is that doesn’t mean you can’t demand high performance. It doesn’t mean you can’t hold people accountable. But you can’t manage only when things are going wrong. And you’ve gotta provide support and guidance and direction.

It turns out what people want from their leaders is support. And there’s so many meetings and metrics right now that it’s as if people think we’re surrounded by management. Meetings and metrics everywhere. But what’s missing is the human element and the guiding, directing, supporting, coaching. That’s what’s missing and that’s what makes the biggest impact on performance. That’s what makes the biggest impact on retention.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. You know, in the auto industry we spend so much of our time on the top producers in the industry that if somebody is selling us 15, 20, 25 cars a month, man we just coddle them in any way that we can and we give them everything that we can. We give them support and leadership and direction and our attention. And the ones that might be selling five cars, eight cars a month, it seems as though they don’t really get our attention as managers and leaders until they prove to us that they have what it takes to stay in the industry. That’s a big mistake, isn’t it?

Bruce Tulgan: It is. I mean, look. I always say to leaders the little secret in the workplace is some people are more valuable than others. Not in the eyes of God, just to the business. But it’s true. One really good person is worth more than two or three or four mediocre people. But as a business leader, how do you lift everyone up? As a manager, how do you help the people in the middle do more, do better, do faster? The people who are struggling, how do you turn them into high performers? And you have to invest in coaching them and teaching them and supporting them.

But look, there’s no question that people who are delivering at 300%, they deserve more rewards. That doesn’t mean that the people throughout the ranks don’t need support, and if you don’t provide support to them, what ends up happening is unnecessary problems occur. Problems get out of control that could have been solved easily. Resources are squandered. People go in the wrong direction for days, weeks, or months on end. Low performers are able to hide out. You don’t know if mediocre performers can become high performers.

So if you’re not engaging with people … Leadership is a contact sport. It’s not a footnote. It’s not a slogan. It actually matters how you lead. And when leaders roll up their sleeves, step it up, engage with their people, the results show themselves.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You’ve got seven different common leadership challenges. Can you break down those seven that managers face?

Bruce Tulgan: Yeah. I mean, so most leaders they have a hard time building structure into their regular one on one conversations. So their conversations don’t have enough structure. Number two, they don’t make expectations sufficiently clear. Number three, they don’t monitor, measure, and document performance. Four, they don’t hold people accountable. They don’t get people in the habit of giving an account. Five, they don’t solve problems, troubleshoot, problem solve. Six, they don’t do enough resource planning. Seven, they don’t do enough celebrating and recognizing and rewarding people when they’re going the extra mile, especially by helping people maintain a work-life balance. Managers struggle with all of these. These are the basics of leadership.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s for sure. And when you just mentioned the work-life balance, all too often we’ll have … If you’ve got underperforming individuals on your team, in the auto industry we make them work even longer. You know, the old adage is that if it’s the 15th of the month and you only have maybe a few cars out, you need to be here from key to key. From the time we open the door to the time we lock it at night. And that just wears a lot of people out. Those people end up sometimes just leaving the industry in its entirety rather than just say enough I can’t do this. It’s a big mistake I think, isn’t it?

Bruce Tulgan: Yeah, I mean look. You have to figure out in today’s labor market, who are gonna be your solid citizens on your sales team. Sales has a way of self-selecting people out, right. If you’re not selling, you’re not making money, you’re not gonna stay doing that. But it turns out there are plenty of people who can become good salespeople with the right coaching. I mean I’ve worked with so many teams of salespeople and worked with their sales leaders and every time what we find is, the leadership part really matters. There are people you may write off as hopeless low performers but it turns out that person’s not a loser, that person just needs a lot more guidance and direction.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s right. And all too often in the auto industry, we make the mistake of taking our top salesperson and promoting them to become a manager when that manager slot opens up. And we’ll find later on that A, we lost a good salesperson, and B, we’ve created maybe a bad manager. When in reality, maybe somebody in the middle of the pack, maybe somebody that’s not been knocking the cover off the ball on sales, would be a much better person or has got managerial experience, leadership experience, from previous companies that they’ve worked for or other industries that might have made a better manager than simply taking the star salesperson and saying okay you’re now promoted to become a manager. Do you agree?

Bruce Tulgan: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean people move into positions of leadership because they’re very good at something, not necessarily because they’re good at managing people. And we put them in those positions. We teach them to do a little extra paperwork. Nobody ever teaches them how to do the people work. And leading a sales team is different from selling. It’s a different skill set. It’s a different set of techniques. So they’re related, of course, it’s interpersonal communication, but they are different. And if somebody’s a superstar salesperson that doesn’t mean that person’s gonna be an effective leader.

Bruce Tulgan: The flip side is, of course, you have to have credibility with the sales team. You can’t manage accountants if you don’t know accounting. You can’t manage a surgeon if you don’t know surgery. You have to have some credibility to play that leadership role so it’s a tough balance. My view is the best case is you build leaders throughout the organization, you don’t put anyone in charge of anyone without teaching them the basics of leadership.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. How can managers really make the most of their time and be able to spend more time with one on one training with their people?

Bruce Tulgan: Well you know what I always say to managers is you’re already spending so much time leading and managing. The question is are you spending that time well? And most leaders, they spend their leadership communication time in a very unstructured way. If you ask any leader, in any situation … And we’ve worked with some folks in the car industry even on the front end, some high-end dealerships … do you know Roger Penske owns some dealerships, and I’ve worked with his leaders, did some seminars for them.

And one of the things we’ve learned is they’re every bit as susceptible to that fire fighting. Like you ask them, what do you spend most of your … oh, I’m always fighting fires, oh I’m putting out fires. And you say okay well when you’re not putting out fires, well then I really don’t have time, but I touch base with my people how’s everything going, everything on track, any problems I should know about, let me know if you need me. And then they interrupt me all day long, something pops into their head they come looking for me, they’re in the middle of something, they send me a text, I’m on email, we’re in meetings.

And so they think they’re managing because they’re touching base, they’re interrupting all day long, they’re on email, they’re in meetings, we call that managing on autopilot. And what happens is problems hide below the radar. And then they blow up and then it’s all hands on deck, fire drill. So we call it the vicious cycle of under-management.

What I tell leaders and managers is put structure into your leadership. It’s like taking a walk every day and eating your vegetables. Set aside time for a good team huddle and have huddles only for what team huddles are good for. Then have one on one coaching sessions. Prepare in writing. Have your people prepare in writing. Don’t just touch base, don’t just talk as needed. You want structure. Have 15 minutes where you talk about what did you do, how did you do it, what are you gonna do today, what are you gonna focus on, tell me what your priorities are for today. And you gotta prepare. So structure is the solution. Structured communication.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s for sure. And what do you see as the greatest challenges that overall leaders have when managing their people? Just overall, whether it be across all industries.

Bruce Tulgan: I mean, look. What’s happening right now is there’s so much change on a macro level. So there’s globalization, there’s technology, institutions are in a state of constant flux, individuals are scrambling to take care of themselves, the information tidal wave is flooding people with information, immediacy, everywhere. What most people are struggling with right now is they’re getting squeezed from every direction. And so most managers have too many people to manage. Some of the people they manage are in remote locations. Some of the people they manage work a different schedule than they work. Some of them are doing tasks, responsibilities, and projects they’ve never done before. Most organizations are understaffed right now. Everybody’s getting squeezed and what we tell leaders is yeah, so leadership is more important than ever before. That doesn’t mean you don’t have time lead, it means you don’t have time to not lead.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, good point.

Bruce Tulgan: And if you say oh well I have nothing to offer them, then that doesn’t mean they don’t need leadership, it just means you shouldn’t be the leader.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s exactly right. Now more than ever companies need leadership that stands to be the case with all dealerships out there. People want to be led, don’t they?

Bruce Tulgan: Yeah, I mean look. Nobody wants a weak leader except low performers who are hiding out and collecting a paycheck. And nobody needs a weak leader.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. That’s a very good point. I totally agree. Well Bruce Tulgan, thank you so much for joining us on CBT News. We very much appreciate it. Your insights are so valuable to us and to our viewers and subscribers. Hopefully, we can have you back again to cover some more of these leadership topics and always a great interview with you. So again, thank you so much for joining us.