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Horrible Managers Do These 5 Things

"First, Let's Fire All The Managers," cried Gary Hamel in 2011. Soon, endorsed by no less than the Harvard Business Review, the idea of "de-layering" caught on, and "cutting the fat" often means shedding highly paid executives, from Starbucks to Coca-Cola

However, as Hamel pointed out, the role of the manager is not the problem. Rather, issue has to do with the faulty, hierarchical system that produces them, "a top-heavy management model that is both cumbersome and costly."

Why are so many managers so horrible that Hollywood loves to poke fun at them? (Office SpaceHorrible Bosses)? Typically, it's because there is a role conflict inherent in their jobs: Their true customer base, the people who hire and fire them, consists of organizational leadership. As such, the needs of their employees -- the human beings they are supposed to manage to productivity -- are instantly superseded by anyone higher than themselves.

This reality, which one might call the "manager's paradox," leads many a potentially good manager to engage in 5 horrible, productivity-killing behaviors that utterly destroy the people who slave away day and night to make the manager look good. As follows:

  • Treating everyone exactly the same: Human beings are not sugar cookies. Each person has a different way of listening, of learning, and of communicating. Managers who expect a group of adults to sit there like robots, listening to instructions and "spitting back" a result, are extraordinarily low on emotional intelligence and should not be in charge of productivity.
  • Expecting the employee to read your mind. "I'll know good work when I see it" may be your preferred mode of evaluating work, but it is also narcissistic and a significant waste of time for the person who simply wants and needs to know the performance standard that is wanted. Further, it's abusive to a hardworking, talented and experienced employee to expect them to be a "mini-me" rather than the best version of themselves, in the service of the organization. 
  • Expecting too much or too little. Employees who are under-challenged are bored out of their minds, and you're wasting money on paying them. Conversely, employees who are continually forced to operate beyond their level -- typically because of some institutional refusal to hire and pay a cadre of people what they're worth -- wind up burned out and frustrated. Imagine being a paralegal who is asked to become a prosecutor without ever attending law school: This is how many horrible managers try to wring out every last drop of value from their vulnerable staff. 
  • Failing to provide training. One of the most frequent gaps in employer-employee communication has to do with the failure of the employer to immerse the employee in the history, culture, mission, vision, values and operational guidelines of the organization they work for. It is unfortunate that many people in my generation (Generation X) were raised on a model of "just figure it out," and they assume that their employees will somehow "magically" do the same thing, absorbing the implicit knowledge of the organization by some form of osmosis. This is insanity, not good management, and it leads not only to errors but an even longer learning curve than necessary. 
  • Extremes of no feedback or micromanaging. Management is a "people" job. You have to get in there and tell people what is wanted, tell them when they're doing a good job, and tell them when they're failing. The horrible manager who is conflict averse tells themselves that they're "empowering" people by "letting them figuring things out," but only because they shy away from providing necessary guidance. On the other hand, the horrible manager who is an evil, arrogant, egotistical pig takes sadistic delight in torturing the employee at every turn, telling them how their work falls short, and then "showing" them how their own efforts are in fact, far superior. 

What is the opposite of being a horrible manager? Understand your employees as people first. Establish clear performance standards. Make sure the standards are appropriate to the job level. Train them to deliver excellence. And finally, provide regular feedback, without micromanaging, to let them know when their efforts are on target.

Many people claim to want to be good managers -- and as such, read books about good management, pay lots of (corporate) money for management seminars, take certificates and degrees and post nice things on LinkedIn.

But in the real world, being a good manager has to do with none of these things.

It's about having the integrity to do the right thing by the people who work for you. 

Which is, in the end, is not just good business, but simple common sense.

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Public domain. Opinions are the author's own. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.