• SRG

Manager Myth #2: Erroneous Attribution

What makes a person successful? What things do we attribute to success?


A few years ago a CEO came to us for help in turning around their sales force which had recently been underperforming as a group. One of the things we asked this CEO, was what he thought made his sales force successful. He was very confident in his response. He said it was because they were a really competitive group. He hired really competitive people. They had sales contests all the time. For them competition, and competing, was everything.

Only it wasn’t. After conducting an engagement survey the employee feedback we received, was that HE was the one who had strong rivalry and was extremely competitive. The rest of his sales force? Not so much. In fact, as a whole, they thought these constant sales contests were unfair, and difficult to keep up with, as there were so many often going on at the same time, with shifting emphasis on which products were carrying the most weight.

This is an example of the Erroneous Attribution manager myth.


As managers, we often try to get other people to imitate the best parts of us. The more the performer reflects the manager’s style often times the happier the manager is. In reality, when there is a goal to accomplish, how you arrive at the finish line is going to be different than the person next to you, and next to them, and so forth and so on. Everyone winds a different path to success. Getting stuck in the trap of attributing a singular way of working as the only way of working can be a dangerous thing. So how can managers avoid this?

Modify. Not everything works like a blanket. We have to modify ourselves to work with others. We work in different ways and have different ways of doing excellent work. Managers often confuse methodology and outcomes, and get caught up in how did you do that? When really more emphasis should be put on the endpoint and outcome itself, not trying to understand why someone does something differently than you.

One of the common phrases we have heard over time from people talking about their best managers is that “my manager gets me”. Conversely, if they don’t like a manager it’s that they don’t get them and how they work. That was the case for the CEO above. He did not understand how his employees were motivated and assumed any success they had could be viewed through the same lens he saw things from: competition. Working with us was an eye-opening experience for him. To his credit, he made changes. Realizing that not everyone was driven by constant competition, he soon did away with the sales contests and shifted more to an individual approach with his reps and their managers. They eventually were able to get things back on track.


The story about the CEO is a good reminder that there are no cookie cutters when it comes to high performers. Unique is more important than average. If you want excellent results manage to uniqueness if you want average results, manage everyone the same way. That doesn’t mean don’t be yourself, it just means let others be themselves too.