Experience and expertise in your chosen career will help you climb the corporate ladder, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will be skilled at leading others towards growth and success in the workplace.


Two Adelaide-based psychologists have confirmed that this can be detrimental to organisations, because as individuals land more senior positions and move into management roles, they may do so without being equipped with the skills to effectively manage a team. As a result, many organisations are host to scores of talented employees who don’t deliver their full potential, said psychologists Luke Broomhall and Sam Young.

“They may have been promoted for their technical expertise and skills, but are then not given the necessary skills to manage,” they report. “The significant challenge for many organisations is in translating the sentiment around attraction, retention, and ‘human capital’ derived from senior management to action by middle managers. But in practice, too many managers are afraid to manage.”

This is an issue that has the potential to impact organisations of all sizes, from small businesses through to large-scale enterprises. With employee engagement and retention being one of the core leadership challenges facing Australian organisations, few employers can afford to ignore this risk.

“If the company is small, then managers tend to avoid difficult conversations with staff around workplace behaviour and performance. This leads to entrenched poor performance, employee malaise, micro-managing and reduced morale,” Broomhall and Young said. “But in larger organisations, the HR function tends to be given employee problems to ‘fix’ well past the time the horse has bolted through the gate, with an associated increase in formal conflict resolution, WorkCover claims, absenteeism and fractured team spirit.”

Most would agree that addressing staff issues, particularly concerns related to performance management, is a core leadership task, however many Australian leaders are falling well short of expectations in this area. This is due to a number of reasons, including:

  • Lack of training in managerial skills and leadership strategy.
  • Fear of bullying and harassment accusations. “They may fear saying the wrong thing to under-performing staff and making a bad situation even worse,” Broomhall and Young said.
  • Lack of support from above. If a manager feels that senior management won’t back them, they may be hesitant to initiate difficult conversations.
  • They do not see it as their job. “These [people] have personality traits that make initiating difficult conversations problematic; they are part of the problem,” they said.

Dealing with difficult situations in the workplace can bring about “all sorts of negative emotions”, Broomhall and Young said, which is why it’s crucial that an organisation’s middle and senior managers and leaders are well-equipped to deal with challenging conversations.


iHR Australia offers an in-house Leadership Training workshop designed to assist first time managers, by providing them with skills, insights and tools to be able to confidently take on their leadership role and responsibilities.

Utilising real-life re-enactments in iHR’s unique Workplace Reality Theatre, the program focuses upon what is required of attendees as a manager, along with strategies for setting expectations, managing performance and offering feedback. Participants also gain useful tips and techniques to put into practice when transitioning from team member to team leader or manager.

Ultimately, difficult conversations with staff “are just that – difficult”, said Broomhall and Young, but they shouldn’t be avoided. “Managers might feel out of their depth, uncomfortable, afraid of repercussions… [But] they should use common sense, combined with planning, behavioural evidence, empathy and commitment,” he said. “Great people need to feel appreciated, motivated and challenged. Great managers make it easy for their team to do their jobs. This requires having difficult conversations on a regular basis, if workplace behaviours don’t align with expectation.”


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