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managers suck

In many organizations, the role of the manager takes on a great deal of importance. After all, managers are expected to achieve results for their departments or work units. They receive credit when the department does well, and they take the blame (and sometimes rationalize it away) when the department does poorly.

Folks from Gallup recently posted a blog entry on the HBR Blog Network to explain the “traits” that differentiate great managers from the not-so-great managers. The five traits discussed involve ability to motivate others, assertiveness, culture (of accountability), relationship building and productivity-based decisions (as opposed to political decisions). Furthermore, according to Gallup, only 1 in 10 managers possess all of these “traits.” Apparently, most managers just plain and simply suck at their jobs, right? And if only organizations would do a better job of selecting managers, we could have more great managers.

However, there are some serious flaws with the assertions:

  1. Traits” are defined as “Enduring personal qualities or attributes that influence behavior across situations.” Most of the “traits” listed by Gallup are actually behaviors or outcomes (with the exception of assertiveness).
  2. Good leaders do not motivate others, but instead create an environment where employees can find intrinsic motivation. After all, intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation, is the precursor for engagement. So, no matter how motivating a manager may be and no matter how assertive that manager is, if the people doing the work are not intrinsically motivated to perform that work, performance will not be optimized.
  3. While leaders can influence and build cultures, cultures can also influence and build leaders. Just ask the preeminent culture expert, Edgar Schein. Most managers do not create the culture of their department or unit. Instead, they typically behave in ways that are consistent with the established norms of the department/unit and the organization.
  4. Many managers fail because they lack the competencies necessary to manage the stress of their new role. Johnston and Lee found that within two years of a promotion, most managers’ well-being deteriorates. Hence, while some people may have some innate talents that might make them effective managers, most people still need training and developmental experiences to prepare them for the new demands they will face. This goes beyond just a matter of selection.
  5. Manager effectiveness exists along a continuum, and most managers probably actually fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I’ve never read a study that suggests that 90 percent of managers are horrible at their jobs, while the other 10 percent are great at theirs. However, this article seems to suggest just that. “Very few people are able to pull off all five of the requirements of good management. Most managers end up with team members who are at best indifferent toward their work — or are at worst hell-bent on spreading their negativity to colleagues and customers.” Hence, the implied conclusion here is that if the manager is not great at all five of the supposed traits, then workers will become negative and disengaged. That seems like an awfully long leap to me, and one not at all supported by a single empirical study I’ve ever seen.

In the end, the blog post proposes a variety of conclusions and assumptions that are really not scientifically established. The fact is that there is no one best type of manager. Each context, each situation, each organization and each work unit is different. I find it difficult to believe that we would ever conclude that what it takes to manage, for example, soldiers within the U.S. army would be the exact same sets of traits and behaviors that it takes to lead a team of synchronized swimmers. I’m pretty sure that someone like the late General George S. Patton, Jr., would have been horrible at leading a team of synchronized swimmers, but his behaviors and tactics led to some very effective management given his time and context.

The truth is, there isn’t going to be a magical set of factors that predict effectiveness in every context. Almost every contemporary theory regarding leadership and management emphasizes the importance of the fit between a leader/manager and his or her environment. Hence, to assume that we can boil down great managers to a list of five supposed traits harkens back to the early days of leadership theories – the great person theories – which have largely been pushed aside by more valid perspectives.

Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Suljo


On Wednesday, July 2, 2014 the Arkansas Psychological Association will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the impact of discrimination in the workplace on those groups named in the 1964 Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2nd.

A committee appointed by the Arkansas Psychological Association Board reviewed the effect of discrimination in the workplace on race, ethnicity/nationality, gender, sexual orientation and religion supported by scientifically-based psychological studies. A public statement has been prepared that summarizes the effect of workplace discrimination on disenfranchised groups and will be read during the event. This statement also addresses the resolve of the Arkansas Psychological Association to work to create a healthy workplace environment for all populations.

Dr. Gwen Keita, Executive Director of the Public Interest Directorate and Dr. David Ballard, Assistant Executive Director for Organizational Excellence will present on the work of the American Psychological Association regarding this initiative. APA has specifically dedicated efforts and program towards fostering employee health and well-being while enhancing organizational performance. A number of Arkansas companies have received awards over the past decade through APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award Program, recognizing their workplace practices.

The commemoration will also honor icons of civil rights advocacy from this community. Awards will be presented to Dr. Terrence Roberts, psychologist, and one of the Little Rock Nine and Mary Brown “Brownie” Williams Ledbetter, posthumously, for her work through the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. The event is free and open to the public with a reception to follow the program.

The event will be held at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 9th and Broadway in Little Rock from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Click here to RSVP for the event.

The event is sponsored by the Office of Governor Mike Beebe, the City of Little Rock, Central High Historic Site, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Philander Smith College - Social Justice Initiative and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock - Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

Source: Arkansas Psychological Association


If you are a student interested in healthy workplace issues, consider working with APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence on our 2014 Work & Well-Being conference in Chicago at the Westin O'Hare on September 11-12. Students from all disciplines, especially industrial-organizational psychology graduate students, psychology undergraduates, students studying business, HR, nursing, medicine and more will find value in working with us on this engaging conference.

Our Work & Well-Being student volunteers have come away from our conferences with new connections, presented their research in front of future employers, published their writing through our communication channels and more. Below is a list of opportunities for students – see which one is right for you…


If you like to network, consider volunteering your time to staff our conference sessions where you will be responsible for conference registration, handing out name tags, distributing handouts, answering questions from participants about the schedule and sitting in on sessions to make sure they run smoothly. We will work with you to find hours that fit your schedule. Each conference is different, but typically our volunteers work 3-6 hours over two days.


We invite graduate students with research on psychologically healthy workplace topics to submit proposals for presentations at the conference. These will be brief (ten minute) presentations that will be part of a special conference session. Topics can include, but are not limited to: workplace wellness and health promotion, employee involvement, work-life balance and flexibility, employee learning and development, occupational health and safety, job stress, diversity, industrial-organizational psychology, occupational health psychology, management and employee recognition.

Guidelines for Presentation Proposals

  • Proposal must be submitted via email no later than June 27, 2014
  • Proposal must be in Microsoft Word, follow APA format and be no longer than 300 words
  • Please include the presentation title, statement of problem, study design, sample size and composition, measures used, analysis method, results and conclusions
  • Also include a one-page bio with the presenter’s credentials, academic affiliation, education, research and work experience, statement of career goals, mailing address, email and phone number

Presentations will be selected and students will be notified by July 15, 2014.


If you are an experienced writer and interested in covering the conference, please consider writing a newsletter article or blog post. We will work with you ahead of the conference to go over your topic and discuss interviewing our presenters. In general, our articles and blog posts should follow these guidelines:

  • 500-800 words 
  • Tone and style blend psychology and business writing
  • Use headings breaks, short paragraphs and clear/concise language 
  • Provide links, bibliographic information, and primary sources for any and all cited content – we need to be able to access exactly what you’re citing 

Suggested perspectives and other tips:

  • Connect presentations to the categories of psychologically healthy workplace practices (employee recognition, employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, and work-life balance)
  • Discuss sessions as they relate to key issues of employee well-being, productivity, communication, organizational outcomes
  • Comment on related economic trends and workplace conditions
  • Read past issues of the Good Company newsletter
  • Access blog posts

The deadline for submitting articles/blog posts is September 30, 2014.


For those of you who are active on Twitter and interested in tweeting from the conference, please send us your Twitter handle so we can determine if it would be mutually beneficial for us to work together this way during the conference. You can check out our 2013 Chicago conference tweets here. Check us out on Twitter, where we post as @APA_excellence. We are also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and more if you are social media savvy – so pitch us your creative ideas soon so we can formulate a plan ahead of time.


If you are an experienced or skilled amateur photographer with your own equipment and interested in taking photos during the conference and would be willing to release the photos to us, we would love to have your help. Send us a link to your portfolio or flickr page so we can take a peek before signing you up!


In exchange for volunteering for our conference, we will waive your conference registration fee ($399 value) and you will be able to attend the main conference sessions you are not scheduled to work for free. You will be fully responsible for your travel, hotel stay and miscellaneous costs, like parking, cab fare, although some food and beverages will be provided.


If you are a current student and interested in working with us on our Chicago conference, please review the opportunities listed above and email us with your name, email address, cell phone number, school name, program/degree expected, date of expected graduation and a commitment to the conference time frame (September 11-12, 2014) and clearly state which opportunities you are interested in and why you are qualified. Once we receive this information from you, we will forward a registration form that must be returned to us in order for you to volunteer. If at any time your availability changes, please let us know ASAP so we may offer your spot to those on the waiting list. Please note that you must be a student to volunteer with us.

The American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence works to enhance the functioning of individuals, groups, organizations and communities through the application of psychology to a broad range of workplace issues. To learn more, please visit: apaexcellence.org.

Additional information about the conference is available online here. If you have any questions, please call our office at 202.336.5900 or email us. We look forward to hearing from you!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/--mike-- / CC BY 2.0



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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

May 2014 is the previous archive.

July 2014 is the next archive.

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