Bad Managers Part 1 – Bad to the Bone

Guest Author: Susanne Skinner

If you’ve been in the workforce a while, you know this subject well. You remember the good ones, the bad ones and all the ones in between. They shaped your career and influenced your professional development. I’m going to talk about managers at each end of the spectrum. Both contributed to my professional development and have a lot to teach us. I have distilled them down to one word each – hubris for the bad ones and humility for the good ones.

Traits of a Bad Manager

There are many traits attributed to a bad manager, but the overriding one is hubris. Hubris cannot be dismissed as a character flaw whose implications are limited only to the individual involved. It is a bad omen. It is a harbinger of what lies ahead for everyone.

Let’s get the bad one out of the way. Truthfully, there was only one bad one, and I am choosing this word deliberately. She (yes, a member of the Sisterhood) was a Bad Manager. It was a long time ago, but I owe a lot to her. She showed me the person I did not wish to become and the kind of person I would never work for again. Bad Managers are rare and I had only one worthy of the title. They are not the norm. Bad Managers will always be outnumbered by the good ones.

That being said, they will teach you something and one day you will appreciate it.

I will go out on a limb (from my one experience) and say that in most cases the company is fully aware of this individual. When I asked colleagues to share their worst manager experience with me they also shared this truth. The employer – from HR to the Executive level – knows it and looks the other way. This person’s behavior is known and condoned. Even the most professionally orchestrated complaint or attempt to expose this behavior is the beginning of the end of your career. It will not change them and you will not remain there. A complaint exposes the individual, and casts a spotlight on company values and ethics. It never has a happy ending.

Dragon, SmaugA bad manager is different from an ineffective or incompetent one. Good people can end up in the wrong job – it happens. You get through it. In some cases they are moved along to a place with a better fit, the department reorganizes or you move on. It’s a shuffling game.

The Death Star of Business

A Bad Manager is like the Death Star. People around them are annihilated. They leave a trail of emotional, administrative and decision making wreckage. Admit it; we all know someone like this. You know you’re working for a Bad Manager if:

  • They lack originality. These are the copycats.
  • They fail to take ownership. Blame and more blame.
  • It’s all about them. They know everything.
  • They lack Integrity. Ethically and morally bankrupt 

These aren’t nice people. Bad Managers rarely have one personality at work and a radically different one at home. If you are a bully at work, you are a bully when you get home. If you are sarcastic, narcissistic and blame others for your shortcomings, you walk in your front door the same way. You should not have pets. Or children.

People will go to work for a company but they quit a manager. I quit after less than a year. Two months into it I knew – but I stayed because I didn’t know what else to do. I had never quit a job. How would I explain it? I took it as a personal failure and spent a lot of introspective time trying to pinpoint where the failure occurred. One day it came to me. It was as much about me as it was about her.

During the interview process I failed to ask the right questions. I neglected to examine this person’s track record, just as she was examining mine. This company sought me out, offered me a salary increase and I said yes. I did minimal research on the company though a great deal of information was available to me. I did not look beyond the offer to assess the fit, the personalities and the dynamics of where I would be working. It was as simple as that. There was much more I should have done before making the leap. In retrospect I can see where a little more due diligence on my part could have prevented a career misstep.

I am not sure what made me feel worse – this new insight or the fact that it was preventable. To paraphrase Autumn Kohler, it felt like I was standing barefoot on broken glass. It really hurt, and walking away hurt – but in walking away I eventually healed.

Dilbert, Scott AdamsLearning from a Bad Experience

In hindsight, even a bad manager can be good for you. I’m not recommending you go out and get yourself one, but it is a teachable moment. A bad one allows you to appreciate a good one. You also learn something about yourself. I thought I knew where I fit and what kind of manager fit best with me. I underestimated the impact a manager had on my day- to-day ability to come in, get work done, and leave with a sense of accomplishment. I gained a new perspective from the experience as well as a new company and manager.

A bad manager will show you what you’re made of. A good manager will take what you’re made of and make it better.

Join me next week for “Managers Part 2 – The Good Guys.”


4 thoughts on “Bad Managers Part 1 – Bad to the Bone

  1. I’m really enjoying the themedesign of your website. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A handful of my blog audience have complained about my site not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Firefox. Do you have any solutions to help fix this problem? kbddecdeeaga

  2. Good points Seth, and there are so many variables that contribute to the end result. I don’t see it as blame as much as holding myself accountable. What I would like readers to take away from this is the due diligence aspect. With web sites like Glass Door and Linked In research is at your fingertips. The truth is out there.

    I also distinguish between bad and BAD. She was BAD!

  3. Given the large number of bad managers out there (I’ve worked for more than a few), I think you’re too forgiving; blaming yourself for not asking the right questions during interviews, for example. Yes, people do leave because of bad management, but the manager, when someone points out that X number of people in his/her department left over the last year, says, “I had no idea. Wonder why they did that.” Losing good people because of a bad manager hurts the company directly. How to fix the situation is the problem.

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