10 Signs of a bad manager and how to turn them around

bad manager

Managers can be a double edged sword in business. They can either be an extremely valuable asset, or an anchor that pulls the business down.

Whether you’re a business owner, manager, or an employee , here are 10 signs of a bad manager and what to do about them:

#1 Micromanaging

One of the most common mistakes managers make is to micromanage their employees. When you’ve become accustomed to doing things yourself, it’s common to feel uncertain about your employees ability to complete tasks effectively and efficiently.

Unfortunately, telling employees how to do every little detail, and asking them to report on everything they’re doing, doesn’t actually improve efficiencies or their quality of work, it does the opposite.

If you’ve ever seen this before, you’ll notice employees respond to micromanaging in either two ways:

  1. They become quiet and restrict their behaviour out of fear of criticism, or
  2. They become disgruntled, verbally wrestling with the manager in conflict.

In either scenario, employees begin to feel disempowered, disengaged and insignificant. Productivity slows, exchange of ideas and feedback decreases, and if it’s bad enough, employees resign.

What to do to turn it around:

If your manager is micromanaging, the first step is to ensure you’re giving them clear goals and objectives. This helps them understand how they’re being assessed, and gives them a basis for giving clear direction to employees.

If you haven’t already, work with both your managers and employees to set best practice policies and procedures in order to guide both managers and employees in both results and expectations. Discuss how goals and objectives will be achieved and what everyone’s expectations are.

Emphasise that a manager’s role is to direct and support employees, not domineer them by trying to control every aspect of their employees work. Giving employees room to fail is all a part of their development and the evolution of your business.

Rather than having someone leer over their shoulder all day, managers can simply check in with employees once a week or every few days, ensuring work is on track.

If an issue arises, address it in the moment, but remember that if managers and employees have adequate training and guidelines, they can then be left to do their own work and measured against set expectations to achieve goals, rather than being micromanaged.

#2 Negative criticism


It’s human nature to want to feel accepted and appreciated. We’re wired to feel this way because we’re a dependent species in the early stages of life. While it can be seen as a weakness, working together is how we’ve managed to accomplish so much.

It may be seen to benefit the outcome and articulate what managers want, but negatively criticising employees is one of the most destructive behaviours because it goes against our very nature, making us feel unappreciated and unaccepted.

If managers are simply pointing out the negatives and shortcomings of employees, they’ll soon start to disengage with their work and fear doing anything that may risk the criticism. This leads to poor quality of work, poor morale, and ultimately a poor workplace environment.

Instead of criticising employees, managers need to allow for failures and give encouragement, pointing out the areas employees have done well.

What to do to turn it around:

If you have managers giving negative criticism, coach them through giving feedback. If this is new to you, set some time aside privately to discuss how they think employees are performing.

Ask your manager what they think is going well, what can be improved and how. After you’ve listened to them, ask them if they think implementing [insert your suggestion] would be a good idea? Listen to their feedback and explain why you think it would help.

Once you’ve outlined this, coach your managers on improving their communication by:

  1. Highlighting something employees have done well.
  2. Explaining what can be improved.
  3. Asking if the employee requires additional support.
  4. Asking if the employee has any suggestions on how they think it could be improved.
  5. Regularly following up with any recommendations.

If implemented correctly, you’ll be amazed at how eliminating negative criticism from your workplace can change the entire culture of the business.


#3 Filtered information


It’s normal to expect people to communicate in different ways. Filtering information however, is excluding or manipulating important information to either employees or executives for the gain of the manager.

This typically happens when looking at targets or goals, tweaking or displaying figures in a way that favors the manager, rather than the business.

It’s a common occurrence during important periods of business growth, downturns or transitions, when managers are either pressured to achieve unrealistic goals, or are incapable of achieving them.

Although we’d like to think managers are in their position based on merit, there are many cases where appearances and networks allow managers who don’t have adequate experience to be in the position.

What to do to turn it around:

If you do have a manager filtering information, first give them the benefit of the doubt in knowing either how important the information is or how it should be communicated.

It’s important that while you may wish to achieve high performance, putting severe pressure on managers only leads them to get “creative” with how they achieve their outcomes. This leads to following the objectives exactly, but dropping the ball in other areas that aren’t being measured, ultimately causing harm to the business in many other ways.

To ensure information is not being filtered, be certain that your targets are clear for both you and your managers, are consistent and take all variables into consideration.

If you’re in doubt, take the time to occasionally speak with frontline employees to get a clear indication of what’s happening, and whether there’s any conflicting information.

Businesses need to be built on trust, so if you find your manager filtering information, have a firm but fair conversation with them. In many cases, management act in “self preservation” mode because they’re feeling unappreciated or uncertain about their role.

If this is the case, provide adequate training and support to help them grow, or look to replace them with someone more skilled.


#4 No technical expertise/understanding


As mentioned in the previous section, managers gain their position in a number of ways, some of which aren’t necessarily merit based. If you’re a business owner that doesn’t know much about the area your managers work in, it’s important that you either develop a basic understanding, or seek professional consultation to ensure that your managers are capable of the job.

In many scenarios, managers are less capable or knowledgeable than the employees they’re managing. While this isn’t always a problem, problems can arise when managers set unrealistic expectations of employees, or push employees in a direction that isn’t the most appropriate.

This also makes it difficult for employees to respect their managers and take direction from them.

What to do to turn it around:

If you are at the early stages of your business, the best way to deal with managers who don’t have technical expertise or understanding is to vet them before you hire them.

If you don’t have adequate expertise in the area, consider gaining a basic understanding through courses, consultants or other people within your business.

If you already have managers who don’t have adequate expertise, consider sending them to training, events or working alongside others for a short period of time.

If the scenario is severe, consider moving the manager into another area of the business and promoting someone else who has technical understanding, as well as effective communication and project management experience.


#5 Do they take responsibility?


No business ever runs without bumps in the road. When problems arise however, it’s important for managers to take responsibility for outcomes their team have failed to achieve.

Of course, this isn’t a golden ticket to allow business owners to blame their managers, after all, business owners should be taking more responsibility than their managers, and asking how they failed to support their managers in order to achieve their business goals.

It’s important that credit is passed down the hierarchical business structure, and responsibility is passed up. That being the case however, it’s equally important for everyone in the company to take responsibility of what’s within their control and work collaboratively to improve business systems in order to achieve outcomes.

If managers are blaming their employees or executives for falling short on a goal, without taking any responsibility, it’s a sign they feel a lack of control in their ability to do their job.

What to do to turn it around:

If this is the case, set out clear roles and responsibilities, benchmarks, targets, systems and processes so that everyone knows what their expectations are and when they’re underperforming. These need to be agreed upon by both parties, so full ownership is taken and blame isn’t passed around the company.

No doubt there will be times when goals are not met for a number of reasons that are entangled with different departments within the business, but everyone needs to accept responsibility.

If targets aren’t met, it’s important to address the issues of why they weren’t achieved in a way that doesn’t blame one single person, but the company collectively.


#6 Pushing to burn midnight oil


There are the occasional scenarios where everyone in the company needs to pull their socks up and push to get something done. Unfortunately, in many businesses, working long hours and burning midnight oil is an ongoing scenario, rather than an occasional once-off.

While it can be beneficial for a single project in a short stint, overworking managers and employees has significantly negative effects such as reduced productivity, mental health issues, errors and employee turnover.

Managers who continually push to burn midnight oil either lack balance in their life or insight into how either the business or their work could be done better to save time, money or effort.

Both of these scenarios have negative consequences, leading to either business or personal problems (both of which affect your business).

Building a business off hard working employees can certainly be done, but it’s often unsustainable over the long term and leads to a number of problems that end up being very difficult to fix.

When employees are overworked, it backs the business into a corner where it’s detrimental to change the way things are done, but detrimental to not change them.

Businesses that are in this scenario often end up cutting back business and employees, going from a business with 100 employees, to 20-30 employees. If the issue isn’t addressed, it becomes a cycle for the business every few years, with market share, trust and credibility being lost each time.

What to do to turn it around:

If burning midnight oil is a company wide issue, the first step is to look for weaknesses in business systems, structure, culture, communication, management, or product.

If one person is doing something (or not doing something), it indicates a problem with that person. If everyone is doing something (or not), it indicates an issue with the company as a whole, and needs to be addressed systematically.

As a leader in your business, it’s important that you lead by example, and take time off yourself, encouraging others to do the same when appropriate. In many cases, what you think is critical, is in fact not, and will either be resolved or handled by people rising to the challenge.

When you’re in a negative, overworked, stressed state, it’s human nature to think worse of negative scenarios, than they are in reality. If you’ve ever snapped at someone over something small, you’ve fallen victim to this and understand what I mean.

Having clear communication, goals, objectives, systems and processes will all help with this, along with some much needed time off and enjoyment.


#7 Demanding respect, not earning it


Like every cliche movie has ever said “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Granted, management isn’t necessarily “great power”, but it does come with responsibility and some power over others.

Being stubborn with employees and forcing them to respect management, shows poor communication skills and ego. If management can’t clearly articulate why a decision has been made and convince employees to take part, it shows they don’t have adequate skills to pull together and motivate a team.

Management is more than simply telling others what needs to be done, it’s about getting the most out of employees, and that often means considering how other people feel in a situation, rather than simply focussing on the outcomes in order to benefit the appearance of management.

Demanding respect leads to resentment in employees, which over the longer term ends up in poor morale, poor quality of work, poor collaboration and innovation and again possibly employee turnover, costing the business significant revenue.

What to do to turn it around:

If you find your employees lack respect for their managers, it is typically a sign that managers are trying to feel significant through control over others.

To deal with this, firmly but fairly discuss this with your managers. Reprimanding them harshly and making them feel insignificant for trying to control others will only lead them to feel even more insignificant and resent you.

The key in communicating this with them is in setting expectations, showing appreciation for managers work, encouraging them to encourage their team, and coaching them to communicate more effectively by discussing things with their team, rather than dictating them.

Doing this helps managers to gain their sense of significance from supporting their team, humbly achieving goals, and ultimately earning the respect of their team.


#8 No employee input


One of the biggest reasons employees are disengaged and leave organisations is because they feel undervalued and under appreciated.

Managers that portray that they’re knowledgable on everything rarely are. If a manager can’t take input from others in the team, it’s a sign of arrogance and insecurity – neither of which are good for a work environment.

Good managers understand that employee input helps to bring another perspective to the table, and ask for employee input even if it isn’t always necessary. This helps to cover all bases, and make employees feel like they’re a part of the business (and that their opinion and insight matters).

This isn’t to say managers should be chasing employees for everything that’s done, but where relevant, if something affects employees, or they play a role in it, it’s worth getting their input.

What to do to turn it around:

Having your team run through personality and skills tests will show them their strengths and weaknesses. If the manager is open to it, it will hopefully mean they’ll appreciate that others have strengths in areas that they don’t and be more open to input from others.

If managers persist at being arrogant, give them challenging work to help them see their shortfalls. If you do this, make sure you don’t criticise them, but encourage them by showing how having input from others would have helped.


#9 Managing numbers, not people


It’s important that your managers have strong business acumen, but if your managers can’t see that people do the work to improve the numbers, then they’re likely to run the business into the ground.

Managers that focus too heavily on numbers without seeing the big picture will often make decisions that affect unmeasurable areas of the company such as culture and morale of employees. This might look good on paper initially, but it can have a significant effect on the company over the long term.

What to do to turn it around:

As Sir Richard Branson put it

“Put your staff first, customers second and shareholders third.”

Make sure your managers value the people around them, and make decisions to help employees do their job better and be more engaged.

It’s important to keep track of expenses and ensuring you’re getting value for money, but hitting targets should be done through encouraging employees and problem solving, rather than harassing and squeezing numbers on a spreadsheet.


#10 Managing both directions


Middle managers often get criticised for managing both directions (both employees and executives). While there will always be a degree of management in both directions to ensure a good workflow, there are managers who will manipulate situations and filter information to favour themselves, at the detriment of others and the business as a whole.

This is toxic to a business and can costs businesses either large sums of money, lost employees, or a bad reputation with customers.

What to do to turn it around:

If this is significant problem, it can be difficult to turn it around. The best method of dealing with it is to try and ensure it doesn’t happen in the first place.

Make sure you’re getting clear and accurate information from managers. Speak with other managers and employees privately to ensure business is running as it should and relayed information is correct.

In severe cases, the offending manager needs to be put on strict notice. In most cases they will improve, but if the situation is dire and they’ve breached company policy and procedures, consider terminating them.

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