Top Three Components of Bad Managers

Do you have a pet peeve so strong that you just won't put up with it? That’s how I feel about bad managers! I think bad managers are a product left over from the industrial age where if you were a manager, you had to be smarter than your employees. There are three components to a bad manager that really annoy me.

1. It really annoys me when a manager spends all their time catching people doing something wrong. Bad managers actually enjoy doing this, and they may actually think they are right by doing it.

If you are going to go about catching people doing something wrong, it’s a whole lot easier when the goals aren’t clear in the first place. This reminds me of Jack Canfield, who in his book Focus said, “a goal without a number attached, is just a wish”. I would say these types of goals function as moving goal posts in the hands of a bad manager.

One example of a bad, unclear goal is when a manager says something to the equivalent of ‘We are going to be better, faster’. Or you can take my favorite example, the common speed trap. Imagine driving over a hill doing a legal 55 miles per hour. Suddenly, you see both a 35 mile per hour sign and a police officer standing next to the sign clocking you. The police officer knows the rules were unclear. Why else would he be standing right next to the sign? At that point he has caught you doing something wrong, thanks to the unclear rule.

How about the yearly performance evaluation, where the administrative clerk gets good marks on their attention to detail, but bad marks on the goals they didn’t know existed until the evaluation. They may get marked bad on customer focus … never mind if they work with customers or not! It just seems that there is always a surprise goal on those evaluations, doesn’t it?

BF Skinner proved that enforcing positive behavior is more effective than punishing negative behavior many years ago. Unfortunately no one told the bad manager.

2. The second component of a bad manager is the fact that they concentrate on weaknesses rather than strengths.

Most people don’t realize that the manager ought to concentrate on strengths rather than weaknesses and this is illustrated by a child’s report card. If your child comes home with a couple of As, some Bs, and one D, what would you spend the most time talking about? Most people would spend most of the time talking about the D.

The Gallop organization has spent twenty years trying to identify the core characteristics of great managers. Concentrating on strengths instead of weaknesses is one of those characteristics.

3. The last component of a bad manager is the habit of empire building.

Jim Collins in his book from Good to Great described what he called a level 5 leader. A level 5 leader is a leader who is humble enough to groom another leader so that when he moves on, the organization can continue to function. An empire builder is the exact opposite of the level 5 leader.

Empire builders flourish in bureaucracies where title and persuasion are valued, but influence through building trust is not. An empire builder will refrain from delegating certain tasks just to keep power. If someone shows promise and has a high level of effectiveness, that person is a threat to the empire builder. Cooperation and knowledge sharing are the last things on their minds.

In the end it turns out the best managers define clear outcomes, hire based on talent rather than trying to find the cheapest labor, and play to the strengths of the people that they manage. I hope one day after the industrial age is finally dead and buried we can all enjoy managers like this.