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A Look at Poor Management

· Leadership,Emotional Intelligen,Workplace

I get into a lot of discussions with people about their workplaces – it fills me with curiosity and there is always something to be learned from other people’s experiences. But I do have concerns about the number of stories of poor management I hear. And I deliberately use the word management because to use the word leadership would be inappropriate.

I ask, as you read this, to think about whether you have heard or experienced similar things and share your thoughts on these crimes of management:

Not Actually Managing

Management involves making decisions, taking action, evaluating and generally making sure that teams work together to meet goals. So why do there seem to be team leaders and managers that do none of these things? Those people who are aloofly going to meetings and replying to emails all day but seem to play no part in changing or monitoring the daily work systems.

For example – I had a conversation with someone who started working in an office of six people. For a number of reasons staff members left and now the team has two members who are still expected to complete the work of the whole team. In a six month period no new staff have been hired, no investigations into morale have been conducted, no new work targets have been set and the manager hasn’t stepped in to help during this challenging time. This is a ‘head in the sand’ situation if ever I heard of one – doing absolutely nothing and apparently hoping things will sort themselves out.

Bad managers bury their head in the sand and don't tackle issues.

Double Standards

'One of my key indicators of ‘leadership’ is the idea of leading by example. Living the values, behaviours and habits that you expect to see in others. It shows integrity and inspires followers to better themselves. Poor managers are the opposite – living in a 'Do as I say, not as I do' kind of culture. The most common way this manifests in my experience is in work hours.

Bad managers may say they want employees to have a work life balance but if something comes in 5 minutes before close they often expect employees to deal with it – even if it eats into their time. I have even heard of people being told off for politely making a customer wait until the next day. Now, some things may be urgent and actually need dealing with, but other things can assertively be put on hold until the next day so that employees can get back to their families at a decent and contracted time.

Reverse the situation. How many times have you heard of a bad boss dipping out of the office early? Telling people to wait and fit in with their schedule? Having no repercussions for late tasks? Whatever the system is, it needs to apply to everyone fairly and equally.

Not understanding the culture or workplace

In order to effectively lead or manage anything you need to understand what it is or how it works. This means empathising with the workers, knowing what the systems look like in practice, understanding the needs of the clients / end users. A good manager takes the time to keep up to date on all of these things, but I have heard of many bad managers making top down decisions when they have no grasp of how it will actually impact the workplace.

A fantastic example is schools. I have seen many a teacher and even government officials make a decision that sounds great on paper. ‘Standards will improve if every child gets written feedback on their work at least once a day’. Or ‘All daily lesson plans should be handed in to the senior leadership at the beginning of each week.’

They sound like good ideas to people who are not in the system because the associated difficulties are not apparent. How many extra hours a day do the teachers spend writing feedback rather than planning engaging lessons / running clubs / having a work life balance? How valuable is written feedback to children compared to verbal feedback? How flexible is daily planning? Will teachers have the freedom to change plans part way through the week if learning changes? Will teachers end up double planning if things need to change part way through the week?

A good manager would talk through new ideas and systems with their team to test run for pitfalls and obstacles. They would generate a shared solution that achieves the objectives (improved learning environment) without being a hindrance on work processes. However, a bad manager will stick to their guns because ‘I’m in charge and I think it’s a brilliant idea.’

Not knowing how their decisions will impact others can be very dangerous to morale as well as efficient work systems.

Being outright mean

This is one of the most baffling things I find about bad managers. As someone who surely knows their job is to motivate, inspire and develop a team to meet goals, why on Earth would you treat the people around you like dirt?

I can understand in a moment of pressure and weakness being a bit snappy (and apologising later) but I have heard stories of name calling, blaming individuals for things that weren’t their fault, harassment/bullying and even shouting at someone in front of the rest of the team. The moment I saw an old manager of mine shout at a team member in front of clients, I knew I wasn’t going to stick around.

Getting the best out of people is all about emotional intelligence and someone who feels the need to rule with fear, condescension or derision will only turn people against them. There is no excuse for being mean. It comes from a place of insecurity or incompetence that is not fitting for a leader.

Bad managers may be inappropriate, aggressive or offensive in the workplace

How did they even become managers?

When I hear these horror stories the first thing I wonder is who let them be in charge of people? With so many inspiring, productive and caring people around, how did someone so unfitting end up here?

I have a few theories and I would love to know your thoughts.

  • The technician. I read a great book about entrepreneurship by Michael Gerber who explained that most people who start a business do so because they are technicians – they are good at whatever the work is. They can make jewellery, do sales, write software etc and instead of doing it for someone else they decide to do it for themselves. However, they many not be good at business. I sometimes wonder if managers are like technicians. They excelled at the ‘work’ level job and so seemed an excellent choice for the manager, but didn’t actually possess the specific skills needed to be a good manager.
  • The historian. This is someone who is promoted simply because they have been there long enough that it’s about time they moved up the ladder. It may feel awkward for a CEO / decision maker to promote someone newer in case it ruffles feathers and so they go with someone who has the most experience on paper (years accumulated) instead of someone with the right skill set.
  • The glitz and glamour. It’s not Ronseal… it doesn’t do what it said on the tin. Interviews are a great way to find out the character, motives and work style of most people. But I know from experience that it can be easy to take people at their word only to find out that they work in a completely different way. They may wow you initially with promise of open door policies and collaborative brainstorming, but once their foot is in the door they revert to a style that wasn’t what you signed up for.
  • The change of heart. The culture in which people work can have a profound effect on them. Deadlines, pressure, work relationships, apathy etc can affect some people more than others. There must be some people who start off as good managers and buy into bad habits or get cynical and become poor over time – especially if they have low resilience and don’t invest in their own training and development. If managers get stuck in a rut or are uninspired in their work then over time this could manifest in the way they treat employees.

What to do when managers don't measure up

Some managers just don't mesure up to expectations

Its all very well complaining about them and theorising how they got to be in charge – but if you are faced with a bad manager day in and day out it can be really straining.

At a glance, here are some things you can try out, but each come with their own pros and cons.

  • Lead by example. If you set a good example, don’t rise to their bad habits and continue to perform well in your own work then maybe they will learn a thing or two from you, or you can at least retain your good reputation.
  • Discuss the problem. If you can identify an exact issue that is causing a problem then maybe talking about it will help. They may be unaware that it is a problem or the impact that it is having on the team.
  • Let them into your world. If their decision making is having a negative impact on you then perhaps you need to show them what your world of work looks like. If they understand more what life is like ‘on the ground’ then they may be better informed.
  • Take things to another level. This can be a dangerous move, but if a manager is being consistently difficult and unwilling to change then a polite discussion of the issues at senior level may have an impact. Make sure you are honest, respectful and have the company interests at the forefront of your discussion.
  • Walk away. If bad managers are stuck in their ways then unfortunately things will stay the same or get worse. This may be the time to leave the team or the workplace – anything that puts space between you and the negative environment.

At the end of the day the type of leader you are working with can completely change your attitude to work so it’s important you don’t settle for something poor. Especially when there are so many good managers out there who truly understand the meaning of leadership.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, stories and strategies for interacting with bad managers. Drop us an email at

Image Credits:

DTFotDS, Leg0fenris, 2011

Head in the sand, Pascal, 2010

Angry man, Gai Comans, 2012

Why does your boss ever like you?, Praveen Kumar, 2012

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