People Experts Who Can’t Deal With People

Linus explained, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”

He might have been speaking for many non-profit executives. According to a study of some 3,000 nonprofits  reported in the New York Times, most nonprofit executives rank human resources the most challenging and least satisfying part of their jobs. These executives are experts in the problems of people, but they find dealing with the people in their own organizations “depleting.”

PEOPLE EXPERTS WHO CAN’T DEAL WITH PEOPLEJerry Hauser, CEO of a non-profit called The Management Center and former McKinsey & Company consultant, says, “People in this sector, just like scientists and doctors, get promoted because of their issue expertise and then no one really ever teaches them how to manage. Then it becomes a vicious cycle, where the next generation coming up in an organization comes up under someone who doesn’t know how to manage.”

That certainly has been the case in my own nonprofit career.   In every nonprofit that I have been associated with, either as an executive or a board member, the managers were promoted from “within the ranks.”  Understanding the clients and how to manage them was considered a much more important skill than managing the staff.  Sometimes we got lucky and someone that was good with the clients was also good with her staff.  A lot of the time we weren’t so lucky.  At those times we were faced with dealing with not only an ineffective manager but even worse, one who wasn’t happy in her job.

Katherine Wertheim, a nationally known fundraising expert, recently wrote about the Importance of Management on this blog.  She suggests that the organizations that she works with would be more successful in their fundraising efforts if they had more management expertise.  Philanthropists have recognized that too– requiring the nonprofits they fund to have management training.

One of the commenters on Wertheim’s blog described an abysmal working situation that resulted from her manager’s lack of management skills.  This manager had a PhD, so she had professional skills, but not apparently management skills.  The result:  “Noone enjoyed working with her and the quick response was to find a transfer to another department or just find another option.  I think the rest of the people stuck to the job because of lack of opportunity and recession!!! So knowing how to manage a department is the key to successful program.” (Neha)

A manager who lacks expertise in managing, not only experiences high turnover amongst the ranks, but also usually ends up with a culture characterized by low trust throughout the organization (both issues are a symptom of a demoralized staff.)   When I’m assigned to coach a second-level manager, I often discover that the problems begin at the top. One electronics-savvy client described his organization as a pyramid, with filters built into every level on the way up and amplifiers on the way down.  An image right out of Orwell.

Opening closed lines of communications often requires an outsider who can move freely through the organization and listen to people at different levels and interpret how they perceive their jobs.  People in organizations often have a dramatically different understanding from their boss of what is expected of them.  Realigning those perceptions can be tricky, but the results are liberating for everyone and energizing for the organization.

When a culture of trust begins to develop, people can thoughtfully and openly examine their strengths and how they might position themselves within the organization so that they best leverage those strengths.   This is when the exciting work can begin as people redefine their jobs and create ways to contribute to the organization using their unique strengths and experiences.   And when that occurs the manager actually does not need such strong management skills because people in the organization are empowered to manage themselves!

Thus, the default management structure that many organizations have fallen into of promoting into positions people with the “issue expertise” but not necessarily “management expertise” can be successfully supported by creating a coaching culture that allows the manager to do what he does best along with everyone else!

Consider these 10 Top Success Strategies for Managers as a way to get started in creating a coaching culture.

If you would like to discuss how coaching might support you and your organization in developing a coaching culture, please call me for a free complimentary session at 805.448.7681 or schedule a session using my on-line calendar.



p.s. I always am interested in what you think about these discussions. Please post your thoughts on the blog…your constructive criticism and support is appreciated!
Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach

Your MOJO Maven

Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US.   Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry.  She coaches individual on achieving their reflected best selves.  An MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment.

STEPHANIE STROM, Philanthropists Start Requiring Management Courses to Keep Nonprofits Productive, NY Times, 7/29/11


  1. corporate bureaucrat on August 23, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Provocative blog that surely recalls the experience of everyone who’s labored in an organization. The word “management” itself may be part of the problem. It suggests manipulation and control, rather than motivating and directing — driving versus leading.

  2. Neha on September 6, 2011 at 3:27 am

    Indeed management skills are just as important as managing your client. One must remember that their staff is the one that will manage the environment if they are away so managing them appropriately will teach them to manage appropriately as well.

    Great issue to focus on as it is usually overlooked.

    Continuing to write my WWW. Now its kinda just becoming fun!!!

    • lynnkjones on September 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      You are so right about how strong management skills translate to good service to our clients! That is great that WWW is becoming fun! :)
      Dr. Lynn

  3. AO on September 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I am not a manager but I do recruit, hire and train workers. I do have to have some managerial skills and I have learned them, but I am still working on them. I appreciate this and the “Top 10 Success Strategies for Managers” articles.

    My supervisor doesn’t evaluate me on that my managerial skills, but I do bring it up during my evaluations. The people I supervise tend to stay with me until they transfer to a university. I must be doing something right.

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