A managerial idea ready for retirement?

7 People Ops leaders weigh in on management of the future.

5-minute read

There is a quiet revolution happening in the world of management.

The old models of governance (e.g. that people need to be controlled to be productive) are giving way to new ideas about how to bring out the best in people. Yet there is a significant gap between what research shows and what most managers practice. It’s no surprise that, according to Gallup, only 20% of employees say their managers are highly motivating. To address this gap, we need to retire managerial ideas that have outgrown their relevance.

But which management idea should we cut?

At LifeLabs, we partner with some of the world’s leading People Ops People to design the optimal learning and development experiences for their teams. These are folks who have their fingers on the pulse of the modern workplace and are constantly joining us to think through how to best serve the needs of their employees. We’ve asked them which managerial idea is ready for retirement, and this is what they said:   

On career growth:      

Annaleah Oxman, Head of Talent and Development at Flatiron Health

“I think the idea that managers will provide employees with a vertical career path for advancement is outdated. The world of work has shifted to a mentality where employees are responsible for owning and driving their career paths, which can take many different directions (horizontal/lateral, etc), and managers will support those goals (but not create them).” 

On hiring and promoting managers:

Arielle Shipper, Head of Marketing at Donut

“Personally, I think it's a mistake that the growth path companies seem to take for granted is seniority = management. Becoming a manager and all that comes with it (inspiring others to do their best work, mediating challenges, mentoring) is an entirely separate skillset, and it's not one that everyone universally wants to hone or spend their days doing. I'd love to see a more intentional growth path for individual contributors that honors and rewards the tremendous impact they have on shaping company strategy, vision, and accomplishments, but may not want to (or be good at) managing a team.”

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Nathan Knight, Director of Learning & Development at Casper

“We should have people who LOVE management being full time people managers, while the rest of us are more like project managers, who are task-focused (though still decent people who make work fun). It supports the right type of management needed for the circumstance, avoids people feeling stuck with one boss, and promotes better/targeted skill-building for managers.”

Rachel Peck, Director of Learning & Development at Harry’s

“I think there’s a misnomer that external experience and management ‘expertise’ trumps all else, and what I’ve found is that sometimes more junior managers who have a deep understanding of and appreciation for our culture can be just as effective as more seasoned managers, if not even more so. That doesn’t mean experience as a People Manager isn't important, it is, but I think that experience must be highly applied  to a unique culture, to the unique context, to the unique individuals. And as a result, ‘experience’ in a standalone way might not be a true predictor of success in a management role. 

On freedom and power:

Sue Choe, Chief People Officer at Petal 

“The power dynamic between manager and direct-report has flipped, in an environment where jobs are plentiful and labor is scarce. Managers no longer can be successful in being directive or making employees feel small; social media (see Metoo, apps like Blind), the rise of employee actions (see Kickstarter, Google), and general desire to retain employees has led to managers needing to develop skills in coaching and creating a positive work environment.”


Margaret Dwyer, Senior Director of People Operations at SiteCompli

“There's an idea that if you give employees freedom, they will take advantage of it, and therefore you need strict controls and rules. I believe employees generally have good intentions, not nefarious ones, and if clear goals and success expectations are set, you are able to provide employees with more flexibility and freedom. It's the company's responsibilities to help managers set those goals and success expectations.”

On managerial expertise  

Elisa Colombani, Head of People at Artsy  

“The idea that managers have to know all the answers and be better at all the skills and knowledge their reports have is super outdated. The best managers don't need to offer the best answers to all the technical problems that arise on a team. Rather, a great manager is able to cultivate their reports' unique skills and superpowers - often ones they don't have themselves - and align them with organizational goals to get to the best outcomes. A great manager isn't someone who has all the best ideas and skills themselves, but someone who clarifies and motivates their team towards a high level vision, creates a culture where people can problem solve and collaborate effectively, and then does the day-to-day coaching and unblocking their team along the way. A manager too focused on having all the skills and answers is a supervisor, not a leader.”


It’s clear from the thoughtful insights of our partners that management is undergoing a paradigm shift. The old style of command-and-control is being replaced with a more collaborative approach to leadership. From the omniscient manager who knows all the answers to one that asks the right questions. From the manager who wields power over people, to one that uses it with them.  From the manager that motivates with a paycheck, to one that uplifts through purpose. To be an expert manager today means having the skills to connect with and draw out the best in your team. 

At LifeLabs, we are proud to be at the forefront of this quiet revolution, helping organizations develop extraordinary leaders and co-creating the workplace of the future.