Middle managers should be feeling a little rained upon these days. They get blamed for low morale, lack of employee engagement and increased turnover — “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad managers.” So what, exactly, are they doing wrong?
From a woefully unscientific data pool of personal experience, colleagues’ testimony and Internet postings, here’s our rundown of a few of the behaviors that identify the classic Bad Manager:
1. They think the more afraid the worker is of losing his/her job, the harder he/she will work.
Mighta been true decades ago … but we doubt it. Frightened employees aren’t more productive, they’re less so — they’re too preoccupied with getting canned.
It is true: That grinding pressure to perform might actually work … for a couple of weeks. After that, employees aren’t just preoccupied by the fact they might lose their jobs, they’re spending the rest of their energy on figuring out how to get the hell out of there.
2. They like secrets.
These people make special deals with favored employees — on the condition that the chosen one doesn’t tell anybody.
This can be anything from giving somebody a one-time bonus to letting an employee telecommute once a week.
The invariable result? Within weeks — in some cases, within minutes — everybody finds out about the “special deal,” feels slighted, loses trust in the manager and starts polishing up the resume.
3. They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.
If things are going great, it’s because of their crackerjack management style.
When things go south, it’s because some dumb workers screwed up.
This syndrome often results in the application of the “nuclear option.”
Here’s how it works: A glaring mistake is made in the department — one that upper management is sure to notice.
The mistake costs the company money, and it’s certainly embarrassing, but it was caused by a simple oversight and isn’t likely to happen again.
Nonetheless, the manager blows up the overall operational structure — often adding in redundant, time-wasting procedures — to ensure that the problem doesn’t occur again.
At the same time, of course, the manager’s sending two messages. The first is to upper management, illustrating how forcefully the manager has handled the problem.
And the second is to employees, which translates as, “We don’t trust you to learn from your mistakes.”
4. They’re so besotted with company loyalty they don’t want to hear any bad news.
Here’s the case of the manager who’s so wired-in to the company line about a specific project or initiative he or she can’t bear to discover things aren’t exactly going according to plan.
Alas, things don’t always happen they way we hope they will. And if a supervisor doesn’t understand a few course corrections are inevitable in virtually every company undertaking, disaster looms.
And when the inevitable happens, who gets the blame? See No. 3.
5. They give people jobs and then won’t let them do them.
Micromanagement is likely the biggest waste of talent and time companies ever face.
The employee perspective can be summed up in a quote from an experienced tech we know who described a special IT project:
“They brought me in to work on this system. And then my job turned into telling (the manager) what I was doing, and then listening to him lecture me on how I should do the things I’d already done.”