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Why managers need a sense of purpose to get them through the bad days 

Managing people is hard. Everyone has differing levels of expectations. The pace of work is increasing all the time. People are emotional creatures, prone to unpredictable behaviour. It’s not surprising that managers have bad days.

I was recently chatting with a client who was complaining his team wouldn’t do what he asked. He had to chase them repeatedly. As we talked, he told me he ‘f**king hated people.’ He was speaking flippantly, but I understood his point. Another client visited our Management Lab recently to review the results of his staff survey. Some feedback felt so personal that he took it as an insult. He was hurt by the observations he’d read.

This makes me think there will always be times when you don’t like your job – particularly if it involves managing people. So there must be something that keeps you focused on why you’re doing what you’re doing. And that thing is purpose.

    Management is a calling

    In my view, so many managers struggle because they’re not the right fit. Management is a calling. Having the occasional bad day is normal. But if it leads to poor performance, consider that you might not be in the right role. Considering McKinsey’s work around productivity and flow, an A-Player is 10x more productive. And that productivity will only happen if their skills and talents fit the role that they’re in.

    Natural managers get joy from helping others succeed. You can’t manufacture or train that in. It either happens or it doesn’t. It’s impossible to be great at something that drains all your energy. In too many businesses, people feel compelled to move into management because it’s the only way to make more money or gain status. Many of these people would have been far better staying as sole contributors. 

    Often if the business is a start-up or early in its life, there’s a reluctance to recruit from outside. There may be a worry that if you hire externally, you may not find the right cultural fit. Don’t fall into this trap. If you move the wrong person into management internally, you might be storing up a whole heap of problems for the future.

    Getting the right people, in the right seats, on your bus

    In my new book ‘Mind Your F**king Business’, I devote a whole chapter to road-testing managers. It’s so crucial that you get the right people in the right seats. Why? Because the engagement levels of your staff are dependent on the quality of their team and manager. You can’t afford to get this wrong. 

    Create an environment where you give people informal opportunities to manage. Introduce non-management posts where people get to manage cross-functional teams. Or ask for volunteers to manage the charity or culture committees. That way, you can see their abilities and management skills without impacting revenue. If they can create followers, they’re a leader by definition, regardless of their job title.

    Put in place peer coaching programmes. These will allow people to develop the skills they will need for management. 

    Work out your non-negotiables

    Get clear on the elements of your life that are non-negotiable. There will be reasons you’re doing what you’re doing. Know what these are. Whether these are personal or business objectives, it’s helpful for them to be crystal clear.

    Here’s an example taken from recent personal experience. In the past month, I’ve taken on some new coaching that’s out of profile with the work I usually do. It’s been intense and has tipped the balance away from my non-negotiables. One of these is taking my two girls to school. I set this goal for myself when they were young and resolved to take them two days a week. In recent years, with a good supporting team in place, I’ve been taking them every day. 

    This non-negotiable is one of the reasons my business is set up in the way it is. Our clients come to our purpose-built Management Lab here in the New Forest. Yes, this isn’t for everyone. But it’s a deliberate constraint that I’ve imposed to ensure I can fulfil my goal. I’m happy to have built a successful business within this constraint. So anything that interferes has to be adjusted. 

    Purpose sustains you


    Personal purpose and company purpose need to be intrinsically connected. When they are, they’ll help you deal with the tough days of management. When someone tells me they ‘f*cking hate people’, I know they don’t really. But I do hope they have a purpose for why they’re doing what they’re doing.

    Purpose is what sustains you when something’s difficult. Last week, seven senior leaders from a client business visited us. They couldn’t get past what they’d said and done to each other in the past. I told them they’d lost sight of their purpose as a united whole.

    It didn’t help that they represented two distinct businesses in a group. The two CEOs and their teams were in dispute. And they were measuring their success by the financial performance of the two business streams. I said, ‘What if you measure your businesses in terms of their contribution to the overall purpose of the group?’ And you know what? It made the financial imbalance go away. In reality, the smaller business could potentially have a larger impact on the group’s purpose.  

    In the end, purpose saved the day. It gave both teams a single number to unite around. People were able to put aside the past. 

    Driving up engagement levels

    A purpose-driven environment employing naturally talented managers will drive up your engagement levels. This week, I’ve recorded a conversation with Jim Harter, Chief Scientist of Gallup, for a soon-to-be-broadcast episode of my Melting Pot podcast. He told me that 57 companies in North America have an employee engagement score of 71%. Can you guess the average score in the UK? A pitiful 9%. That’s pretty shocking.

    To be engaged and happy, you have to be doing meaningful work that puts you in flow and aligns with both your personal and company purpose. If these things aren’t true, you won’t be productive. And if you’re an unhappy, unproductive manager, your team will be the same. Going back to the client who was hurt by their staff survey results. It was obvious there were people on the team for whom management wasn’t their calling. Hence the low scores in the survey. They had some serious work to do.

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    Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his new book, ‘Mind Your F**king Business’ here.

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