I did a quick poll of my friends and coworkers, asking for bad boss horror stories. Most people had relatively tame ones -- bosses rechecking their work, being flighty or generally being unprepared to handle (and therefore explain) the responsibilities of a job. Personally, I experienced situations as strange as an upper manager named Dave who only promoted people named Dave (and one named Davena), a director who routinely made me – an administrative assistant -- smell the bathrooms (don’t ask), and a supervisor who would lose his train of thought in the middle of instructions to me and replace whatever else he had intended to say with the word “thing.” Example: “Jennifer, we have the meeting at twelve, so I need you to-- thing.”
Other people polled had more … intense… experiences: extreme micromanagement, screaming, throwing people under the bus and physical threats. Wow.
The saying goes, “People quit managers, not jobs.” According statistics compiled by LinkedIn , “Three-out-of-four employees report their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job,” and “The average organization is 50% as productive as it should be, thanks to less-than-optimal leadership practices.”
A company may be amazing, with excellent benefits, a great salary and a fun work environment, but if a manager makes life miserable for an employee, none of that matters. If that employee was talented, trained and dedicated, losing them is a loss for the whole company. The result of a bad manager: missed opportunities and financial losses for both employer and employee.
First off, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it: Nobody should be physical threatened or physically threatening on the job. That is illegal, and your HR department should have procedures in place for dealing with such threats, including involving the authorities. If you feel unsafe, extract yourself from the situation!
This extreme example aside, here are a few other bad boss behaviors that drive employees crazy (and away from a company).
Micromanaging: There is nothing that will deflate your confidence more than knowing your manager is watching every step you take, waiting to pounce on your first mistake (real or imagined).
Taking all the credit: These are the bosses who expect you to applaud while they accept awards and promotions for all of your hard work.
Taking none of the credit: You feel like you might as well just stay under the bus for all the times a manager like this throws you there. The successes are theirs, and the failures are someone else’s.
Being brutally honest – with an emphasis on brutal: Somehow, this extreme honesty never extends to compliments. These bosses throw performance feedback at you like a brick and believe that any kind of praise will make you too complacent.
Making people scramble: Tight deadlines and changing procedures are part of most jobs and businesses these days. But it’s the boss’s job to try to mitigate these stressors, not make them worse.
Lacking empathy: Now more than ever, it is abundantly clear that life happens, and we can’t be prepared for everything. Having a manager who lacks flexibility and understanding can add to already intense life pressure.
Employees: what can you do if you find yourself working for one of these characters?
Managers: What can you do to avoid becoming one of these characters?
Being a strong leader and manager takes time and ongoing effort. Unfortunately for everyone, it is more noticeable and difficult when a manager slips up than when one employee does. When you can, use these slip-ups as a learning opportunity. And finally, most importantly-- thing.
We've spent some time discussing the price paid when a manager hires someone wrong for a job -- we know the potentially devastating effects. But what happens when the person unfit for the position is the boss? It's the next step in the process; if people are promoted or placed in positions where they manage others, but aren't great leaders, it can have a widespread impact.
What happens when it’s the big boss...the manager who’s unfit?
According to an Inc.com 2018 poll, a staggering 76% of workers think they have a “toxic boss.” So, what does that mean for the company? A 2015 Gallup study found that 50% of people leave a job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their careers. So, promoting or placing one wrong person can have ripple effects far beyond the immediate department.
When the person in charge is a horrible manager, team morale suffers while company production and income plummet. If a very large group of subordinates is involved, there may be scores of miserable workers functioning on autopilot, commiserating, or threatening to leave en masse. And it can be even worse for small departments where angry underlings may feel so powerless they suffer in silence or mask their growing unhappiness with frequent illnesses and absences.
Unfortunately, bad managers can come deceivingly packaged as good ones. They may display what looks like desirable traits -- a friendly disposition, authoritative stance, accommodating attitude, and desire to succeed -- but none of these ensure management strategies that will be beneficial to a specific team.
Some of the seemingly most ideal managers can do the most harm.
4 Mistakes Every Bad Manager Makes:
Treats Every Worker the Same Way
One of the most common mistakes bad managers make is to neither recognize nor capitalize on each employee's unique differences. These managers consciously paint everyone with the same wide brush (perhaps thinking this is the equitable thing to do) and all but eliminate any chance for personalities to set themselves apart and bring their individual talents to the team. Most employees who are all treated the same way eventually start feeling unappreciated, misunderstood, and overlooked.
For example, more assertive employees will jump at the chance to assume additional responsibilities or exercise their power. They need managers willing to quickly assign extra duties and develop any potential leadership skills. Passive workers, on the other hand, prefer to stay in the background. A manager who adds assignments more gradually and takes the upper hand will keep these more prudent workers on board.
Recognizing different traits and different needs, then managing them correctly, is important. Not only to the work environment but to the overall productivity and livelihoods of those working within the company.
Focuses on Weaknesses
Bad managers often get caught up in what workers can’t do instead of what they can do. They also talk brazenly about how they’d like to change people. However, identifying these "problem areas" does nothing to motivate improvement or skill growth when there are no solutions. Poor managers skip the work of uncovering what really motivates an individual and miss out on opportunities to benefit from innate talent and specific strengths.
For example, rather than growing frustrated with a worker who takes her time and prefers routine, good managers will use this person for repetitive tasks or tedious tasks. Chatty employees enjoy talking to people; good managers appreciate their social skills and routinely funnel client relations roles, or telemarketing calls their way.
When good managers uncover someone’s natural assets, they can more readily devise opportunities to help the person increase these skills.
Because one of the managers' primary responsibilities is to motivate and develop staff and offer managers extensive training on understanding human behaviors better. Consider having the whole team take behavioral assessments to see how they may interact and identify strengths and weaknesses. Ensure the person in charge of any size staff can be flexible enough to share at least some common ground with every team member.
Most workers are happiest if allowed to have at least some say in determining their own path when accomplishing objectives. They’ll want a varying amount of oversight from the boss, depending on their specific level of self-confidence and individual desire to take some calculated risks.
Good managers explain the ground rules to everyone then decide which workers might want extra guidance and which don’t. Self-directing team members need chances to devise their own methods, improvise, and learn from their mistakes. A manager's worst actions are to hover over them, tether them to stringent rules, and become a constant presence in their day. Of course, a general agreement on goals is in order and adherence to checkpoints or KPIs (key performance indicators) for feedback. Still, scrutiny of everyday actions and responses can make good; self-sustaining subordinates feel their manager doesn’t trust them.
More cautious workers will want extra feedback from and interaction with their boss. Functioning as a resource and giving advice when asked can boost lower levels of confidence. Provide clear instructions, backup, and reassurance that you know they can do the job. Monitor progress and provide input, but don’t do so to excess. Keep in mind that even the most fearful, self-doubting worker needs some room in which to breathe!
Consider rewarding managers who develop the abilities of others to perform on their own and meet personal goals.
Fails to Fit the Right Person to the Right Job
Any worker mistakenly placed in an ill-suited role will struggle, fail to meet expectations, and likely seek employment elsewhere sooner or later. Good managers know their team members' personalities and place each one in a role designed to play into their innate talents and interests. They set them up for success instead of for failure.
Not everyone can function in high-stress situations. Not everyone can lead. And not everyone can withstand others’ critiques or nasty remarks.
Be sure the workers hired to be collectors exhibit the levels of assertiveness, tenacity, and resilience that the job requires. On the other hand, your behind-the-scenes researchers probably need an analytical mind, penchant for details, and, perhaps, the ability to work alone for extended periods of time.
There are also environmental conditions to consider before promoting an employee or hiring someone new. Is the person you have in mind for the job apt to fit in with the existing team? Might there be generational issues to address? A more mature worker, for example, could have trouble taking direction from someone young enough to be a grandchild. And eager new graduates may expect fast promotions, immediate answers, or big rewards for their efforts.
Knowing who’s right for a job limits the risk of mutual misunderstandings, arguments, disappointments, and regrets.
Today, the typical workplace employs a wide range of individuals who are not only from various generations but also of different perspectives, cultures, backgrounds, and economic levels. With such an eclectic collection of sometimes conflicting personalities, it’s more important than ever that managers know how to correctly read people, trigger hot buttons, and adapt to changing needs.
Are all the managers on your team fit to do the job?
Knowing how much supervision to give an employee can be difficult. If you provide too little oversight and guidance, people could end up feeling lost, unsupported, and unproductive. On the other hand, if you provide too MUCH direction, you could end up micromanaging your team, which often makes people resentful and resistant.
Anyone who has been micromanaged knows it is no fun, but it can affect different people. Some employees will do anything possible to earn the trust they feel like they are being denied. While this might seem beneficial initially, it can have damaging long-term effects because they usually burn out when that trust never comes.
Others will become dependent on micromanagement and won't dare make a move without approval. They show no initiative for fear of being reprimanded, which leaves them ill-equipped to handle change and adapt to disruption. These employees don’t tend to grow over time because they have no incentive to improve their skills or demonstrate their expertise.
Another category of employees reacts quite negatively to signs of micromanagement. They resist, argue, push back, and generally make a show of being unpleasant at every opportunity. While being micromanaged can be an incredibly unpleasant experience, these employees often become so wrapped up in showing their displeasure that their performance suffers as a result. The very act of trying to make them productive then ends up doing exactly the opposite.
In most cases, micromanagers are driven by a need to control situations and fear being accountable for other people's work, usually because they think that work will be of poor quality. Some other explanations for micromanaging might include:
If the point is ensuring success for the company, what's the problem with micromanaging? Why stop? There are actually several reasons why micromanaging can be damaging to an organization over time:
A predictable response from a micromanager might be that they’re concerned about an employee making mistakes. While this may seem justifiable, it’s important to remember that making mistakes is one of the most effective ways for an employee to learn. Working through failure also helps to build resilience, which is incredibly important in today’s fast-changing economy. Combined with development assessments that identify which skills an employee needs to work on, making mistakes is critical to professional growth.
But what if they make a LOT of mistakes? Believe it or not, that’s actually not a bad thing either. If an employee consistently fails to meet expectations, it’s a good indication that they need to be reassigned to another role or dismissed altogether. Too much micromanaging often allows subpar performers to skate unnoticed by the rest of the company, which hides the team's deficiencies.
There are many instances where managers may need to play a more active role in an employee’s work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re micromanaging. Some examples of this could include:
It all goes back to trust. You trusted an employee enough to hire them. If you also trust that your training is good and that your instructions are clear, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t also be able to trust that employee to be accountable. This is especially true of organizations that have used various cognitive and behavioral employee assessments throughout the hiring process to ensure they’re making the best selections possible.
It can be scary to step back and let other people try, and possibly fail, so start gradually. Identify the least important processes, delegate, assign them, and walk away. Compare people's skills to the risks of the assignment. An unskilled employee completing a high-risk task should be closely managed. Better yet, a project of such importance should probably be reassigned to a more seasoned staff member in the first place.
Understanding how to recognize and avoid micromanaging your employees is critically important for all leaders. Even when the micromanager seems to have the employee’s best interests at heart, there are very few situations where micromanaging your employees doesn’t lead to negative outcomes of some kind. Organizations can only be successful when everyone can embrace trust and accountability, which ensures that employees can focus on doing their own jobs to the best of their ability without unnecessary oversight or support.
The funny thing about top performers is that while they rarely need external motivation, the wrong kind of management will quickly result in serious demotivation.
Also noteworthy: these folks tend to be politically savvy enough to hide their managers' worst of their frustration. Instead, one day they’ll just up and give notice, thanking their clueless employers for the “valuable learning experience” as they skip out the door.
This is the bad type of turnover that smart employers try and avoid, especially in the current economy, which is becoming more and more a seller’s market.
As every employer knows, talent acquisition is an investment. Failure to get the proper return on that investment hurts the bottom line. It also hurts morale and engagement when talented folks are driven out needlessly. It’s discouraging and causes remaining employees to have to reboot and regroup.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As a blueprint for what NOT to do, here then are the 5 surefire ways to demotivate your top performers.
#1. Micromanage. I’d guess that a literal ton has been written about the evils of micromanaging. Nobody likes being told exactly how to do his job, over and over again, as a matter of course. Top performers value autonomy and the ability to think for themselves. Anything else feels demeaning and stifling. Give top performers an objective and a deadline (if necessary) and then leave them alone. If they need help, they’re skilled enough to ask for it.
#2. Flip flop. Indecisiveness drives top performers batty because they like getting stuff done. A habit of obstructing progress by failing to make needed decisions is guaranteed to send your top performer racing to the job boards.
#3. Be opaque. “Why” is a fundamental question for top performers who appreciate knowing the reasons behind requests and directives. Managers who view “why” as a threat to their authority and/or who feel entitled to give orders without considering anyone else’s need to know will find themselves continually on the lookout for good employees.
#4. Underpay. When rewards aren’t commensurate with results, most employees will get a little antsy, and top performers are no exception. However, top performers tend to know their worth and will more quickly seek other options. While cash isn’t the end-all-be-all motivator for everyone, money is needed currency to obtain food, clothing, and shelter (among other things of worth), and it signals value, to boot.
#5. Routinely engage in petty politics. Politics is an unavoidable part of corporate life, and top performers certainly know this. Still, there’s a difference between healthy politics, which entails using power and social networks to advance interests assertively and respectfully, and the toxic, tiring games of the truly unenlightened. The latter requires too much emotional labor and makes work hard for all the wrong reasons. Top performers don’t want to be bothered with that.
Top performers give more, and they require more in return. They want their ideas and their intellect respected, they want to be paid what they’re worth, and they don’t want their efforts choked by needless roadblocks and petty politics. These behaviors are all surefire demotivators and surefire ways to find yourself on the losing end of the war for talent.
Managing a career takes discipline. If you’ve obtained some degree of success at work, you probably didn’t do it by leaving a bunch of stuff to chance. Instead, a good bit of your actions were likely planned.
That’s okay. Self-control is a virtue—there’s no doubt about it.
However, difficulties can arise when the need for self-control crosses the line and becomes the need to control everyone else.
Dr. Taylor Hartman, the author of The People Code, says that each person is primarily motivated by the desire to pursue one of four things: peace, relationship, fun, or power:
As Dr. Hartman points out, each color has strengths and limitations. Reds can be impressively productive, for example, but also insensitive, selfish, demanding, critical, poor listeners, impatient, and manipulative.
That’s what happens when your desire for control takes control of you.
There are two enormous problems with needing to always be in charge.
First, others tend to resent it, which negatively affects your ability to elicit cooperation. Like it or not, you’re no island. Instead, you need other people to advance your goals. Not surprisingly, those people are more liable to offer their assistance when they don’t hate you. (And if you’re the boss, don’t count on being able to “make” people help you. It just doesn’t work that way. Disgruntled employees will find all kinds of ways to resist your instructions—without coming off as openly insubordinate.)
Second, even the most gifted individual has less than perfect vision, and no one knows everything. That means it’s generally to our advantage to be open to input from others. Customarily dismissing your coworkers' opinions and ideas or direct reports is sure to result in poorer quality work.
The irony of always needing to be in control is that the need controls you while preventing you from making the best decisions possible.
Think about it. If your primary motivation is to assert your superiority or authority—rather than find the best solution to a problem, for example—your personal interests are bound to interfere with your ability to do work well, even if only on occasion.
How can you rid yourself of this bad habit? If you believe Dr. Hartman, even someone born with the tendency to crave control, can change and learn to temper his or her natural inclination with a concern for others.
Our workplaces need take-charge people, especially when there are hard decisions to be made and not a lot of time to make them.
However, when you lose control of your need to take control, what should be a virtue becomes an unfortunate and career-stumbling vice.
Rarely does anyone have anything good to say about a micromanager. And no wonder, because employees hate being micromanaged.
Come on, who wants a manager breathing down his neck while giving step-by-step instructions on how to do something he already knows how to do very well?
And believe it or not, managers hate having to micromanage, too. Most managers want to give directives and then have stuff happen more or less exactly as envisioned. They don’t want to have to connect every dot and give detailed instructions to their employees.
However, there are a few instances in which this management style can be useful, and employees should welcome this management technique, at least for a time.
Whether the employee is new to the workforce, new to the company, or new to the function, brand-new beginnings often require more oversight than usual. There’s always a lot to learn with any new position, and a little micromanaging doesn’t hurt in these circumstances. These employees will need to become acclimated to their tasks, coworkers, company processes, company culture, and company politics. In fact, even an employee who’s been promoted within his company may be surprised by the differences in culture from one department to the next. An experienced mentor who can give detailed guidance during this period of acclimation is a good thing.
Good managers expect that after a reasonable amount of training and/or direction, employees will function as reliable, independent contributors. When it becomes apparent that this transition isn’t occurring as planned, the manager needs to act. Coaching and counseling are two first usual (and important) steps, but if neither of these yields the desired results, the manager will have to take things up a notch, perhaps by placing the employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP).
Under a PIP, regular scrutiny is a given, and it’s necessary because the manager needs to understand why the employee is failing. Sometimes, managers are tempted to pay less attention to under- or nonperforming employees because they are frustrated with the situation and want it (and the failing employee) to go away. However, times like these require the manager to pay greater attention, even up to and including some micromanaging.
High-profile, pet projects require special attention so that the details are handled just so. If not, something is bound to slip through the cracks, and that’ll be a big no-no.
Maybe the employee wants to improve his performance by getting faster or more accurate (imagine, for example, a payroll processor who wants to finish processing sooner and with fewer mistakes) and has requested a bit of extra attention from his manager. The manager should accommodate that request. Not only will the employee improve his performance, but he’ll develop a greater appreciation for the manager as well, which can only enhance their relationship and future performance.
A new manager may decide to engage in a little micromanaging to figure out what her employees do quickly. This type of micromanagement is strictly for the manager’s benefit. She should be very clear with her new subordinates that she’s taking such a detailed interest in their duties for her own education and not their downfall. Otherwise, this manager will likely have some miserable staff on her hands, and her subordinates may even go out of their way to hoard information.
Despite the bad rap that micromanagers get, there are times when it’s perfectly acceptable and even necessary for a good manager to micromanage just a little. However, micromanaging should always be a temporary measure to meet a specific goal rather than indicative of the leader's overall management style.