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Former Member

I've been meaning to pen this blog for a while; I've had the pleasure of working with many people over the last 15 years of my career, and for some reason over the last few months, I've had the desire to jot down the traits of good and bad managers that I've noticed, and share my experience.

Whilst working with people is complex, there are definitely certain traits that bad managers made, and the worst of them make all of these mistakes, every day. I hope you can read this and be introspective.

Bad managers...

Don't give clear and consistent feedback

Have you ever worked with a manager, and you ask how you're doing, and they respond "Great"? You ask what you could be doing better and they tell you that everything is great. I remember a conversation with two managers a few years back, where they criticized one of their employees to me. I asked the question "have you given them that feedback?"; they looked at each other, perplexed.

Many times, if you give someone feedback, they will change their behavior; this isn't foolproof, as some things don't change, but my experience is that many times, when people behave a certain way, they aren't self-aware.

They say that you shouldn't tell off a cat, unless you catch it in the act; they have no clear sense of cause and effect apart from in the moment, and this is similar with humans: if you have feedback, then give it then and there. Sometimes it can cause offense, but most people don't hold this against you.

Get frustrated with their employees in front of others

I was on a call a few weeks back, and the manager took another manager to task, in front of their team. I took the first manager to one side later, and pointed out this behavior. All this does is build resentment.

Instead, just take the person to one side and point out the behavior. Be clear, and timely.

Point out the obvious, without helping (seagull management)

Quite often when a manager looks in on a problem from the outside, the solution is quite obvious. Sometimes, a manager will swoop in like a seagull, poop everywhere, and fly out again. In many cases the people involved in the problem is already well understood by the team, and what they needed was help, rather than someone pointing out the obvious.

If as a manager, you get called in to help with a problem, it's because your team need your advice, experience, and ability to change the dynamic of what's going on. Perhaps they need you to change the parameters of the problem, the timeline, the deliverable, or the team. You need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Take credit for other people's work

I always judge a manager by the way in which they develop and grow their team, and the people with whom they work. So if a manager takes the work from one of their team, and presents it as their own, it gives a really bad impression. What's worse, if you're presenting the information and you don't know the detail, you can look really stupid if the people you are presenting to want detail.

For sure, it can be easy to do this by accident - so always make a point to attribute who within your team did the hard work. As a manager, it may be your job to present the work, because you have the skill of information aggregation, but take a moment to give credit. And, if you need to present the detail, bring that person into the meeting so you can call on them for their expertise.

Get people to do things they aren't good at

One of the great correlations in teams, is the correlation between people working on what they are good at, and enjoying their work. If you're not a good project manager, then being asked to do project management will make you miserable (that's me!). If you're not a good public speaker, then being asked to speak at conferences may not be the right thing.

Good managers see what their team are good at, align their tasks and goals with this, and then push them to give more. Most people like to be challenged to give a little extra. And great managers can tell the difference between what people aren't good at, and what they don't have the aptitude to do, and will push their team accordingly.

Aren't willing to get the pizza

Good leaders are 10% strategists, and 90% waterboys. A good manager will realize that if their team is performing very well, and under extreme pressure, then the best thing they can do is to be in charge of communications and nourishment.

If your team needs pizza, then go buy them pizza (and salad, to be healthy!). Don't delegate this to a stressed-out team member and don't ever think that a task is below you. And if your team needs protecting from the customer, a steering group, or themselves, then be the shield and do the communications. Make sure you get what your team really needed (buying Hawaiian pizza when your team are don't eat pork will win you no friends!).

Get frustrated... at the wrong time...

There's nothing wrong with showing frustration, and sometimes you need to show frustration to get your point across. But you must choose your time, and bad managers don't know when to do this. For instance, if your team is under extreme pressure then they will make mistakes... and adding to that pressure will make them unhappy.

If you can keep your head when all about you  

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  

                                                            - Kipling, If

Control your frustration, and show emotion when you want to.

Are too busy to spend time with their team

We've all been there - deadlines are looming, pressure is mounting, and stress levels are high. But if your team ask for help, you need to be willing to drop what you're doing and spend time with them. Bad managers don't prioritize their team, and why should your team prioritize you in return?

Instead, take the time to listen, and empower them, because bad managers...

Don't empower their team to make mistakes

Your team should be able to make appropriate decisions according to their role. Is it necessary to spend some budget to take the team out to dinner to say thank you? If so, then they should be able to do it. Bad managers micromanage their team members and try to make small decisions for them - wasting everyone's time.

Let your team make mistakes, and tell them where they went wrong, give feedback in a positive way and move on.

Don't provide the tools to do the job

Your team need the tools with which to do their job, and if they don't have them, they will be unhappy. I remember working in a company where there was a culture that important people got the best laptops, and junior people got hand-me-downs. This meant that the people doing most critical hands-on work had the worst machines.

When we set up the IT policy at Bluefin, we deliberately set this up the other way: consultants get new laptops when they arrive, on the day they arrive. If they need a new laptop then they should get one - notionally on a 3 year rolling policy, with exceptions where relevant. If anything, the management team have older laptops.

Lack Self-Awareness

Yes, this is #11, but I wanted to add it at the last moment. Probably the worst trait of bad managers is that they don't know that they're making the mistakes above, and aren't aware on the impact. Their team doesn't grow and they are resentful towards them, and escape, either internally or externally.

To grow as a leader, all you have to look inside yourself and see what's going on, and make corrections. This is a tough ask!

Final Words

Just in case it wasn't clear, whilst the words you read have been shaped by my experiences, this article isn't a tirade towards a manager of mine - past or present. In fact, if anything, the managers that I have worked for have taught me these lessons and helped me, so thanks for that.

And yes, probably there are people reading this who see the irony that I've behaved towards them in one of those ways. Yes, I've probably made all of these mistakes and then some. Sorry about that.

What else did I miss?