Management is hard. Getting people to act in unison toward a common goal is just not something that comes naturally. Two recent studies should give managers pause, especially those in the financial world.

First, a new Gallup survey begins with this stunning line in the executive summary: “The majority of managers working in the U.S. today are wrong for their role.” It goes on to say that many of them have talent, just not management talent. They’re more suited to their previous jobs, and their strong performance often got them promoted to a management job they were not suited for.

The other survey, from J.D. Power, isn’t as bad at first blush. But when you look at the big picture, it gets uglier. It simply ranks a broad swath of financial companies based on the opinions of customers. In customer satisfaction, Edward Jones and Fidelity tied for the top spot. Wells Fargo ranked third and was the only bank above the industry average. But the larger point is that they were all just a few points above the average. In fact, the top 10 firms were all within a few points of each other, in the high 700s to low 800s on a 1,000-point scale. If this were school, the smartest kids in this class would be in the high-C, low-B range. In the real world, it means that customers don’t see much of a difference in the financial firms they deal with—even the best ones. After all, there are a lot of high-C, low-B students. In this class, there are no standouts.

Is there a connection here? Are these companies unable to rise to the top because they’ve got the same misbegotten managers as everyone else? More to the point, could a more careful selection of those truly skilled at managing be a differentiator for you?

First step is to learn from the best, which is where we can help. We’ve scoured the industry again for our annual Top 20 Program Managers. We also ranked the “Next 30” for a full list of 50 executives who have excelled at the management game. (We'll unveil our top program managers online over the next few days, and the magazine will be hitting your mailboxes soon.) Read up and use their tips to wreck the curve and be a standout every chance you get.

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