I have a confession to make – I know almost nothing about people management and motivation. The more I learn about leadership and what motivates people to do their best work, the more I realise how little I know.

Although few managers would admit they lack the skills required to do their job, the reality is that most don’t have a clue. According to Gallup, organisations fail to choose the right person for the job 82% of the time. 

It doesn’t help matters that many organisations still use traditional methods of evaluation when choosing managers. Most of the time, leaders are picked based on their experience rather than talent or desire to manage people.

Why Should More Managers Confess They Don’t Know?

In their book, “What I didn’t learn in Business School: How Strategy Works in the Real World,” Barney and Trish assert that the biggest challenges people face when starting in management roles involve building trust and learning to motivate people with varying backgrounds. In a managerial position, the surprises never stop because there’s always something to learn. Here is why more managers should admit that they don’t have a clue.

1. Management Is An Art As Well As A Science

Nobody knows how to do management well. Gallup estimates that only one in ten employees have the skills required to become a manager. Another two out of ten possess some of these skills and can get there with the right training. While there are ways you can learn management in a scientific manner which is practical and measurable, a huge aspect of dealing with people is instinctive and like art. You know a good leader when you see one, but you can’t always explain their actions rationally.

Clearly, good managers are rare. The five core talents associated with management include: motivating employees, asserting oneself to overcome obstacles, creating a culture of accountability, building solid relationships, and making unbiased decisions for the company. With many organisations choosing to hire managers for reasons other than talent, the majority of managers are way in over their heads.

2. Human Psychology and Behavior Can Surprise You

Human psychology and behaviour is complex and difficult to predict. When you’re dealing with people, accept that surprises will happen. As a manager, you will encounter situations you haven’t experienced before. Researchers are discovering new and surprising elements of human psychology every day.

If you are a manager, the least you can do is admit that you have a lot more to learn. Human behaviour is unpredictable and still a mystery in many ways. While we have made great progress in the last 2 centuries, there are many elements which are still not understood about why we behave the way we do.

3. Management is Learnt Through Experience

You don’t learn the most important management skills in school. Formal education on management is not a good predictor of success in the workplace. Admittedly, we have all learned to be managers from our experiences. 

In their research paper, “Leadership: Experience is the Best Teacher,” Robert Thomas and Peter Cheese propose an experience-based approach in developing leaders rather than formal classes and programs that are hardly linked to career development or business goals. 

They base their conclusions on a previous Accenture study that surveyed leaders under the age of 35 and over the age of 75. The study found that leaders learn more about leadership from work and life experiences than from leadership development courses and MBA programs.

Leadership and management is like riding a bike. No matter how many books you read on biking, you start to learn how to ride a bike once you get on an actual bike and start biking. 

Getting People Together Aligned on Common Values Is What Management and Leadership Is
Getting People Together Aligned on Common Values Is What Management and Leadership Is

Be Humble And Acknowledge How Little You Know

In a culture where confidence is praised and mistakes ridiculed, admitting your ignorance may seem unnatural. But as one study found out, intellectually humble people are more motivated to learn. To become a better manager, you must be ready to admit you know little about leading and motivating people. Then you can focus your energy on learning and gaining more experience.

“Saying I Don’t Know” Opens the Door to Learning and Growth

Accepting you don’t know something opens the door to learning and growth. Admitting you have shortcomings sets you on a path of knowledge seeking. As Nobel Prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar remarked, “Believing that you must be right, in other words, lacking intellectual humility-can actually stymie discovery, learning, and progress.” 

Having a growth mindset means that intelligence can be improved over time. If you believe that intelligence is permanent, however, you will rarely seek learning opportunities.

10 Prerequisites to Have Before Managing and Leading People

 In my experience, I have learned that there are 10 skills which are pre-requisites before you start managing people. They are:

1. Self-Leadership 

Successful leaders manage themselves first before managing others. The first step to better self-management is self-awareness. This involves introspection and reflection to understand your values, strengths, and weaknesses in the most objective manner. Having a deeper understanding of your own self can help you identify your shortcomings and empathise more with other people.

Self-leadership means learning to manage your emotions instead of letting them manage you. For instance, instead of losing your temper when a situation gets out of hand, you can listen to your emotions and address the issue according to your values. Emotions can teach you a lot about yourself, but they should not dictate your responses.

You must also learn how to manage your time and energy. This will enhance your productivity and, consequently, inspire your employees to follow your lead. Your relationship with your team will be determined more by your trustworthiness than by any other skill or talent you might possess. Trust is the foundation of leadership, and you build trust by leading yourself first – by holding yourself accountable for what you demand from your team.

2. Optimism and Positive Outlook 

Positivity is a key ingredient of success in the workplace. It improves interactions in the workplace and can benefit your organisation’s bottom line. If you hope to inspire positivity, you have to exhibit it first. 

For example, when experiencing a failure, choose to focus on the brighter side of things instead of complaining. Cheer at the prospect of learning something new and start seeing challenges as opportunities to grow. When you embody positivity, your team will emulate your attitude.

In the chaotic world of business, it is very easy to feel cynical and resigned. Managers who see the world with optimism and can see and communicate a better future for their team and organisations will actually end up creating that future.

3. Relationship Building 

Employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. While you shouldn’t go around making everyone your best friend, research has shown that creating healthy working relationships can lead to more engagement and higher profitability. 

If you don’t trust each other in your team, you will waste a lot of time politicking and backbiting. Hence building strong relationships based on trust and mutual respect is an essential pre-requisite before stepping into management. Leaders build strong relationships by understanding people’s deepest beliefs and ambitions, by coaching them to figure out their values and empowering them by setting relevant milestones and then providing support along the way.

To create an environment of trust in the workplace, you must trust first and at times give your people the benefit of the doubt. When problems arise, be ready to hear their side of the story and try to see things from their perspective. You must also always communicate openly and honestly, even if you have to share bad news.

4. Fair and Balanced Decision Making

Good managers take time to ensure they are acting fairly. But inevitably, some people will deem your decisions to be fair while others will not. Be clear about your decisions and why you are making them anyway. 

For example, if you promote one employee over another, be open about why you made that choice and convey your reasons in a clear and concise manner. 

Although sometimes it’s okay to follow your gut, your business decisions should be based on facts, figures, and metrics related to your organization’s goals and objectives. Data-driven decision making leads to fairness and objectivity.

At the same time, you should know your own and your organisation’s values, and never make decisions that go against them. Strong managers stand by these values and lead by example – even when it leads to short term negative economic impact.

5. Resilience, Patience and Perseverance

While passion makes you start, it is persistence that carries you through. Ups and downs are not just part of life but work too. If you can handle the pressure and keep powering through, you will face reality with staunchness and look for creative solutions instead of crying out in despair. 

Granted, setbacks will occur, but persistence will get you past the speed bumps. The key to remaining steadfast and persistent is keeping your eyes on the right priorities and laying down simple action plans. It is like when you are driving at night with your car’s headlights on. You can only see a little bit ahead, but you have faith that you will reach your destination this way.

6. Demand and Hold Yourself and Others Accountable

Being accountable means taking responsibility not just for your own work but also for that of your team. To be a good manager, you must accept the blame when things go wrong instead of passing the buck. 

Employees look up to those in authority. If you are always taking responsibility for your actions and that of your team, you will inspire confidence and discourage the “me first” attitude in the team. A strong leader knows how to manage any intimidating employee with poise and confidence.

7. Clear Communication 

A big part of management is clear and transparent communication. If you fail to communicate clearly and accurately, you will create confusion. Sharing the correct information (even if it means sharing bad news) will help you connect with and persuade others, and to make them listen to your ideas. 

We should treat our employees like adults. To become a more effective communicator, learn to use both verbal and nonverbal communication well. For example, nodding and maintaining an open body posture is equally important as the words you use.

Leaders should stop using complicated language or hiding behind jargon. Share documents openly. Let people ask anything about everything. Transparent communication involves people in problem-solving and they see the team’s or the company’s problems as their own.

8. Valuing Teamwork

Success is almost always a result of collaboration and not the work of one individual. Teamwork fosters productivity by bringing together multiple perspectives, experiences, and skillsets.

A good manager always puts the team ahead of individuals when it comes to making decisions. A team of 5 superstars doesn’t necessarily make a good team, and a strong manager knows better than to tolerate awesome jerks (high-performing people who behave arrogantly). 

9. Coach People to Be More Empowered 

A good manager knows how to coach people to help them chart their own destiny and make independent choices. Coaching not only solves the problem but also helps people grow. When you help people think things through, that leads to long-term behavior change. As a coach, you empower and help people build their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The role of the coach is to help the coachee think without any shackles and decide for themselves what to do. Coaching starts with being curious and asking powerful questions. Coaching creates a space for people to express their feelings and validate their ideas. It says to them: I see you, I hear you, and I value you. 

How well you coach people will be directly proportional to the results the team produces. Investing in learning these skills and making coaching a priority will be your best investment ever. 

10. Teach “Management” as Part of Your Role

If you have managers reporting to you, teach them how to do their job well. Since so few managers are trained on how to do their job well, most people learn from their own managers. As a manager, teaching (combined with coaching as mentioned above) others how to manage is an inescapable part of your job. 


The road to becoming a good manager is not smooth, and the best way to learn is through doing. And if you’re like me and everybody else, you are bound to make many mistakes along the way. The ten prerequisites listed above are important lessons I have learned from bad bosses and being a leader myself. Today, I believe that leadership is standing for something bigger than yourselves, and any leadership and management role must not be taken lightly.

In summary, a good manager is self-driven and always maintains a positive look on life. They recognise that teamwork is necessary for success and will inspire others by leading from the front. Instead of passing the buck, they will take responsibility for their team’s actions. And all the time, they will make fair and balanced decisions.