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The Difference between Effective and Ineffective Managers

This article looks at some of the reasons why some managers get so much better performance from their subordinates than other managers

Why are some managers just more effective than other managers when it comes to motivating their staff? Why will some subordinates walk through fire for their boss while others will sabotage their boss at every opportunity? Over the almost 40 years that I have worked as a management consultant I have come to identify five key factors that set effective managers apart from ineffective ones.

How do you see your staff? Are you there to help them get the work done or are they there to help you get the work done? Ineffective managers believe that there staff are there to help them. What this implies is that the manager is responsible for the work and the staff are merely there to help him. Effective managers see themselves as a help for their staff. This means that the staff are responsible for the work and the manager is merely there to help them – and if they don’t need help she will stay out of their way.

The idea that staff are responsible but that the managers remains accountable is simply academic hogwash. Managers and subordinates should be responsible (and accountable) for different things and therefore, measured on different things. A sales manager, for example, is not responsible for sales; the reps are. The sales manager is responsible for training and motivating the reps. A sales manager’s performance should therefore, never be measured in terms of sales, but rather in terms of ‘number of successful reps’.

Ineffective managers tell their staff what to do. Their focus is on activities, procedures and job descriptions. Then they spend most of their time checking up that the staff have carried out these activities. That’s not ‘supervision’, that’s ‘snoopervision’ – always trying to catch their subordinates doing things wrong. Effective managers tell their staff what to achieve. They agree with their staff on the results to be achieved and then keep score of their performance.

The general manager of a packaging company told me that he walked into one of their factories and found a machine operator reading a newspaper in work time. After bawling him out, the operator told him, ‘Sir, my machine is clean and running’ and continued reading his newspaper. The GM told me how he almost fired the man. I asked him why. ‘Because we don’t pay people to read newspapers,’ he said. ‘What do you pay them for?’ I asked. ‘We pay them to work’. I told him how dumb that was. He should never pay people to work; he should pay people to produce results. That’s a totally different mindset.

Ineffective managers create failures by setting high goals. The belief is: ‘Aim for the moon, maybe you will land on the roof’. Well, ‘landing on the roof’ may be a fantastic achievement, but if you were aiming for the moon, you have failed miserably. Nothing will discourage a staff member more than facing a huge mountain to climb. Effective managers create winners by lowering the goals. By lowering the goals they increase the chances of success and that is one of the most powerful stimulants to be even more successful. The art of leadership is the art of creating winners, yet time and again I come across companies that have a climate of failure – and everybody is frustrated.

I spent some consulting time with a large retail chain in the Middle East. As a result of my visit top management went back to each store and said: ‘In the light of the current economic climate we think we may have set your sales targets too high. We have reduced it to ….’. (On average each store’s target was reduced by about 15 per cent.) Six months later every store had exceeded their original sales target. Ineffective managers seem to prefer high targets and low results; effective managers seem to prefer low targets and high results.

Ineffective managers make decisions for their staff; effective managers allow their staff to make most of the decisions themselves. Responsibility can never be divorced from decision-making. The person who makes the decision is the person who is responsible. For example, most would agree that the primary responsibility for the performance of workers lies with the first-line supervisor, yet when there is a vacancy to be filled in the team, very few supervisors have the authority to make the final decision on whom to appoint. In that case, the supervisor cannot be held responsible for the performance of her subordinates, because she was not given the corresponding decision-making authority.

A mechanic once told me that he got a new assistant and one of the duties of the assistant was to look after the tools. At the end of the day he had to clean them and lock them away. His assistant did this, and did it well. But one day another artisan came to this mechanic and asked if he could borrow his no. 13 ring spanner, so he gave it to him. When that artisan walked away the assistant approached his boss with fury: ‘Who gave you the right to lend out my spanners without asking me?’ And he was right to be angry. Even though the spanners were the personal property of that mechanic, he no longer had the right to lend them out without his assistant’s permission, after he had given him the responsibility of looking after the tools. Two people cannot be responsible for the same thing, because two people cannot both make the decision. If a manager is not prepared to place himself under the authority of his subordinates he should not expect them to perform responsibly.

Ineffective managers try to move their subordinates by holding out a carrot; effective managers try to motivate their staff by making their work a source of pride. When employees perform their tasks in order to get something, they are being moved. Ineffective managers think that they are motivating their staff when they offer them incentives, but they are only moving their staff, and it can be costly. Incentive schemes reduce people to the level of circus animals: ‘If you do this trick I will give you a lump of sugar’. The underlying message of an incentive scheme like that is: ‘You do not have enough self-respect to want to do a good job, so I need to lure you with some bait (money) the way one lures an animal’.

Effective managers know that if work is not a source of pride, the worker will never be motivated, only moved. To stimulate that source of pride they make sure their subordinates experience success, give them responsibility for decision-making, and frequently recognise their achievements. And, of course, they do reward them for good performance but always in an unexpected manner, because they know that as soon as an employee is entitled to a certain ‘reward’ it is in fact no longer a reward that motivates, but merely compensation.

If your employees are not a highly motivated workforce, don’t blame them – take a look in the mirror.

Dr Arnold Mol’s book Creating Winners in the Workplace can be ordered from him at He is also available to present talks and seminars to managers and supervisors. See his website

Article by Dr Arnold Mol
He matriculated at Kimberley Boys High and attended the universities of the Orange Free State, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, where he obtained his doctorate in Organisational Psychology. He taught for 16 years at the University of South Africa where he held the position of professor in Business Management. He is currently in private practice as a management consultant.

He has written several books on the topic of Motivation, Parenting and Marriage, and he frequently addresses business people, teachers, parents and couples on these subjects.

He is perhaps best known for his work on the motivation of people in their work situation. Since 1978 he has conducted more than 900 training courses for managers in commerce, industry, and agriculture in every part of South Africa. (as well as in America, Europe, Asia and other African countries). The successes in this field have been the topic of several television programmes as well as numerous magazine articles.

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