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Podcast:  8 Things You Should Know About Pilots, Leaders, And The Management Death Zone


Recently, our president and founder, Patrick Bosworth, spoke with Todd Nordstrom of O.C. Tanner about pilots, new leaders, the Management Death Zone, and what exactly makes modern management training so ineffective.

In this podcast, originally published on the O.C. Tanner Institute Blog, Patrick discusses something he dubs the Management Death Zone.

What is the Management Death Zone?

The Management Death Zone, Patrick describes, is the period of time where the new leader is “learning the ropes,” learning how to get things done through a team instead of as an individual contributor, and how to be effective and successful in their new role. This zone is inevitable to any new leader promoted into a supervisory or managmenet position.

Because they are new to this position, new managers are often very vulnerable, ineffective, sometimes they flounder, and sometimes even become a possible risk to the organization.

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Every leader goes through the management death zone, and not all of them come out…

Why do almost all new managers fall into the Management Death Zone?

To answer this question, Patrick poses:  “How does someone become a manager? Often they were the best individual contributor… Because they were the best at what they did they got promoted into a managment role. Sometimes it’s what we call a ‘battlefield promotion,’ where somebody leaves the company, so automatically someone gets pushed into the role of manager.”

“In my mind,” Patrick says, what you end up with is “someone who is very talented, very capable, is the best contributor, and is doing the best they can in a role they don’t understand fully.”

Every new manager, Patrick says, has to go through the Management Death Zone. The difference between succeeding and failing comes when that person either pushes through it quickly, or stays floundering in the Management Death Zone indefinitely.

If this “Management Death Zone” is inevitable for most new leaders, what can organizations do to mitigate risk and minimize the amount of time it takes for a manager to push through it?

The answer is training, but not just any training

Training becomes the go-to answer. The challenge is that most training is a waste of time and money. In fact, only about 10-30% of what is ever taught in a training environment actually shows up in real behavior.

In a recent study, Patrick explains, they found the following:

  • 15% of people don’t apply what they’ve learned in training
  • 70% of people try to apply what they learned but end up reverting to their old habits
  • Only 15% have a natural capacity to apply what they learned in real work scenarios

Is effective training just a pipe dream?

To some, the above numbers may insinuate that 85% of training is ineffective; others, however, will see that there’s 70% of people who want to succeed, and just lack the support and tools to do so.

That’s why Leadership Choice spends so much of our time helping people put together much more effective, modern, flexible, and better supported programs that target putting back-end tools in place in order to help these additional 70% of people succeed.

Attain the unattainable

The biggest component that management training companies lack, Pat explains, is built-in support mechanisms. Most leadership development companies focus on the delivery of content, but without support in application the content barely makes it out of the training room.

The following key components can take a typical 15% successful long-term application rate of traditional training programs to an 85% successful long-term application rate:

  • Provide dedicated, experienced support in application, for instance coaches or mentors who have experienced these things in real life and can help the manager apply the new information
  • Train in chunks with time to practice application between each module
  • Deliver content in multiple formats to increase interest and appeal to all types of communication patterns

Why doesn’t every management training company have coaches?

They’re focused on content.  It’s widely recognized that there are certain skills a manager needs to have to succeed, such as delegation, conflict resolution, influencing, setting and achieving goals, etc. Most leadership companies think their curriculum is “special,” when in reality there are not a lot of training companies that can differentiate themselves from the pack.

This isn’t a bad thing! After all, there’s a reason these skills are accepted as the most necessary skills for a manager to have.

The problem is that changing or updating the content is never going to solve the ultimate problem, which is poor application.

Creating a program formulated for application and long-term retention by using tools such as multiple-format learning, teaching in chunks, and (most importantly) individualized coach support, companies can see up to a 560% increase (from 15% to 85%) in real, on-the-job application of new skills.


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